01 October 2019

Knowledge item

Types of assessment

Toetsvormen (NL)

There are different forms of assessment. Which you choose depends on the goal of the assessment. Below you will find an overview of the most common types of assessment with a description and their (dis)advantages.

MC questions usually consist of two parts. First you have a stem that contains the question or problem. The second part contains the possible answers. The possible answers consist of the key (the correct answer) and the distractors (incorrect answers). A student is asked to respond by specifying the best possible answer. The correct answer is fixed and can be scored objectively (through software).


  • Suitable for a high number of students (>60) and for many questions in a short period of time;
  • Broad and comprehensive assessment of lower order cognitive skills (knowledge and understanding of facts, concepts, procedures);
  • Application of knowledge in new situations (case-questions);
  • Allows for easy scoring, results can be available quickly.


  • Lower reading skill may interfere with the assessment of subject knowledge;
  • Validity may be at stake;
  • Construction of questions may be difficult when it comes to higher order cognitive skills;
  • MC exams may motivate students to reproduction of knowledge and ‘shallow’ learning.

Read more on making MC exams (in Dutch) 

Open questions can vary from questions that need short answers to expansive answers such as an essay question. The interpretation and scoring of the answers are up to the assessor. To be transparent and limit bias an assessment guide and/or an answer model is needed.


  • Suitable for lower and higher order cognitive skills;
  • Few questions needed to be able to go in depth on themes;
  • A wide range of question types can be asked;
  • Open questions motivate students to higher order learning, and connecting facts, concepts, and procedures.


  • Suitable for a low number of students (< 60)
  • Composing and answer guide and instruction of assessors takes time;
  • Exam duration limits the number of questions that can be asked;
  • Handwriting, language and spelling errors can influence scoring;
  • Assessment biases/uniformity of assessment (reliability) is at stake for larger groups of students and with multiple assessors involved;
  • Correction time is extensive, results are available after some time.

Administering digital exams differs from written exams because it can be done online or on a computer in an exam hall. The focus for the lecturer, compared to written exams, is more on organising the examination properly.

Also, with digital assessment, questions can be easily stored to form item banks. When constructing a future assessment, questions can be chosen from this item bank, based on the assessment matrix.


  • Has the same advantages as MC and open questions;
  • Teachers can easily construct a variety of closed questions;
  • Answers to open questions are easily readable (no handwritten texts);
  • Correction time can be relatively quick;
  • Assessment of specific questions can easily be divided amongst assessors;
  • Test and item analysis (including open questions) is quickly available.


  • Requires more organisational input from the course coordinator: arranging exam devices (limited capacity), setting up the exam, and consulting with the faculty key-user;
  • Calamities such as loss of internet connection or power have a major impact.

During an oral exam the lecturer will have a discussion with the student (or students). The assessor will provide an assessment based on the whole discussion.


  • Suitable for small groups of students, and all cognitive levels;
  • Is a moment of personal contact with the lecturer;
  • Motivates students to deep learning (higher order skills);


  • Oral exams may be taxing on assessors;
  • Assessor biases may be large;
  • Two assessors are preferable for high-stakes assessments, to be able to optimise objectivity;
  • The course of the conversation is not properly predictable because of the interaction.

When assessing skills, a distinction can be made between assessing the product (paper, thesis) and the process (cooperation, research process, reflection). In this context, assessment is done through direct observation of the skill. Rubrics (set of criteria are used as a tool. Criteria are described in so called performance indicators on different levels. Distinction is made between analytical versus holistic, and task-specific versus generic rubrics.

Holistic rubric
Complex skills/competencies are integrally described on a select number of main components.

Analytical rubric
Skills are subdivided in multiple criteria, each separately assessable based on a uniformly described performance level.

Task-specific rubric
For assessment of a specific skill in a certain context.

Generic rubric
For assessment skills that are applicable in a different contexts.


  • Suitable for assessment of higher order skills in cognitive, motor, and affective domains;
  • The analytical rubric provides detailed feedback to the student to lift their work to a higher level;
  • The analytical rubric is especially useful to less experienced assessors because it makes criteria explicit;
  • The holistic rubric is quick in use;
  • The analytical rubric can be used as a formative assessment method;
  • The holistic rubric can be used as a final assessment (summative use);
  • When used throughout the programme, the development of the student can be tracked.


  • The analytical rubric is sometimes seen as a checklist by assessors, which does not do justice to the integral skill as a whole;
  • Separate scoring per criterium can lead to the sum of the partial scores deviating from the full impression (criterion validity);
  • The holistic rubric provides less explicit instructions for improvement (less suitable for formative feedback);
  • The holistic rubric is subject to subjectivity through interpretation differences of lecturers.

Click here for the Overview of types of assessments (pdf, in Dutch).

Other themes in assessment are:

  • Examination and assessment of collaboration;
  • Examination and assessment of reflection;
  • Involving students in assessment (peer- and self-assessment)

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