Centre for Assessment

Information about Assessment

Attainment testing

Attainment tests are used to ascertain whether pupils, who have completed a course of study, have acquired a requisite level of mastery in the relevant area of the curriculum. GCSE, A Level and the National Curriculum tests are examples of high-profile attainment tests that are used in schools in England and Wales.

Attainment tests can be developed and used by teachers internally within a school - for example a test of a list of spellings that pupils have been set to learn - or they can be developed by external agencies and standardised against nationally representative samples of pupils - for example National Curriculum tests.

Depending upon the nature of the knowledge and skills being assessed, attainment tests have different formats. Some tests contain a mixture of completion and multiple-choice questions and some contain mostly multiple-choice questions. There are, also, attainment tests that contain essay-type questions.

Most subject areas have a range of knowledge and skills that is too great to be assessed in any one test. Therefore, attainment tests assess samples of the relevant knowledge and skills. A criticism of National Curriculum tests is that they cannot sample elements from the whole of the National Curriculum. They can sample only those elements that lend themselves to a written test format and this has a distorting affect upon the delivery of the National Curriculum in schools. However, this criticism overlooks the role of Teacher Assessment. Nevertheless, it presents a challenge to test producers to develop ways of including these types of curricular elements in their written tests.

Other than in schools, attainment tests are used wherever there is a need to have an indication of students’ levels of competency. There is a multiplicity of settings where such a need arises, the Driving Test being an example.

Attainment tests can be administered to groups of pupils, for example the National Curriculum tests, or to individuals, for example the Driving Practical Test. Attainment tests can be norm-referenced or criterion-referenced.

The Centre for Assessment develops a variety of attainment tests. The largest volume of work involves the production of National Curriculum tests for England and Wales and a range of tests that is sold by GL Assessment.


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