What Is an Informal Assessment? (With Benefits and Examples)

Updated December 20, 2022

When teaching, educators can gauge students' knowledge and progress using various assessment methods. With an informal formative assessment, teachers can evaluate if students are gaining the knowledge relevant to advancing to the next learning phase. Learning about this assessment method can help you identify knowledge gaps and monitor students' progress toward a learning goal. In this article, we define informal assessment, differentiate it from formal assessment, explain its benefits, and provide examples.

What is an informal assessment?

An informal assessment is an intuitive method of evaluation where a teacher or instructor tests students' knowledge toward learning goals without using standard rubrics or criteria. This means there's no standard evaluation guide. Instead, the teacher may ask open-ended questions and observe students' performance, enabling them to determine how much the students understand the lessons.

You can also call this an informal formative assessment or evaluation. This assessment method allows teachers to observe a student's progress at various points in the learning period. The informal evaluation involves using multiple tools to determine students' levels of understanding throughout learning. While this assessment method excludes focusing on grading, teachers may leverage the data from informal evaluations to create and adjust a flexible learning experience for the students.

Differences between informal and formal assessments

Formal assessments are dissimilar to informal formative assessments in using a standard grading system to score students objectively. In formal assessment, teachers use several data-driven methods for students' evaluation. Most formal assessments are criterion and norm-referenced tests. Using norm-referenced tests, a teacher evaluates a student's performance compared to the class's average performance. Criterion-referenced tests judge a student's performance using a standard or rubric. While teachers use formal assessments to determine a student's knowledge through specific standards and criteria, informal evaluations help gather feedback on a student's understanding and identify gaps in that knowledge.

Teachers use formal assessments to gather factual data that may qualify a student for the next learning phase, while an informal evaluation might be a preparation for a formal review. For example, a teacher may give a formal assessment to determine if a student qualifies to move from a secondary school to a tertiary institution. They may use informal formative assessments to help identify areas for improvement to facilitate the move to the next learning phase.

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Benefits of informal formative assessment

Here are common benefits of assessing students using informal methods:

Better depicts a learner's abilities

For several reasons, students may feel extremely nervous or underperform during formal examinations and evaluations, whereas an informal evaluation may help teachers better understand a student's abilities. Because educators can observe a student's progress through different stages, it can provide a more holistic background for grading a student's knowledge instead of a formal test or examination. Within an informal formative assessment, teachers can leverage several tools to understand a student's true abilities.

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Occurs in a student's natural learning environment

Informal evaluations typically occur in a student's natural environment, free from pressure and tension, allowing them to engage freely with the tasks and activities. This can help teachers get a more realistic presentation of the student's abilities. Formal examinations may induce anxiety, nervousness, or fear, whereas educators can leverage informal evaluations to eliminate these elements that may skew results.

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Requires fewer resources

An informal evaluation differs from a formal assessment, as it typically requires fewer resources and planning to organize. The evaluation process can be impromptu and require only teacher and student interactions without investing monetary resources. Informal formative assessments provide a more precise representation of a student's abilities with little to no resource consumption.

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Creates an environment that encourages immediate feedback

As informal formative assessments don't involve formal grading, teachers can provide immediate and consistent feedback to students. This feedback encourages creative thinking and enables students to improve their knowledge. It may be more manageable for students to work on and implement changes a teacher identifies when the feedback is immediate and consistent.

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Provides relevant data

Informal evaluations enable teachers to gather meaningful data to help them make informed decisions and adjustments. As such, teachers can identify areas of their delivery that require adjustment. They may also identify students' specific challenges and devise effective strategies for addressing them.

Examples of informal formative assessments

Here are popular informal formative assessment examples you can use to evaluate a student's knowledge:


Quizzes can occur at any stage, before, during, or at the end of a lesson. A quiz can ask students questions about the lessons or general knowledge. Teachers can use this tool to increase class participation. A basic method of organizing quizzes is to divide learners into two or more groups and ask each group questions. The group that scores the highest points at the end of the activity wins. The winning group may receive recognition or other forms of reward.

To create classroom quizzes, a teacher can include open-ended, close-ended, multiple choice, checkboxes, or dichotomous questions. As quizzes are typically fast and fun, students usually find participating in this activity exciting. Quizzes also expose a student to diverse subject areas.

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A project is a creative activity that encourages students to apply their classroom knowledge and engagement to solve real-world problems or tasks. For example, a teacher might ask students to use their knowledge in a baking and cooking class to make a snack or dish. Depending on the project's scope and structure, teachers can split students into groups, assign tasks to each group, or ask each student to complete the project independently. For example, a teacher might ask students to produce a play as a group project or ask students to create an art piece individually.

Working on projects enables students to develop practical knowledge and gain relevant skills, such as problem solving, time management, collaboration, creativity, and communication. Projects also help students understand how classroom knowledge applies to real-life scenarios.

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A portfolio can be evidence of a student's knowledge, strengths, and experiences. Teachers might ask students to build a portfolio to understand their learning progress. They could request this portfolio at several stages in the learning process to get insight into the student's progress. Doing this can help teachers provide real-time feedback for improving the student's knowledge. Working on a portfolio and improving over time may help students develop decision-making, goal-setting skills, and self-awareness. This informal evaluation encourages healthy communication between the teacher and students and promotes an environment that welcomes positive feedback.

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Observation involves focusing on students while they learn and taking notes on any behavioural patterns. This common informal formative assessment method can help teachers identify areas where improvement is necessary. When using this method, teachers typically act as participants and observe students' behaviour and interactions without interfering. Doing this enables them to identify knowledge gaps and understand the challenges students may be facing. They can also detect character traits, such as charisma, friendliness, and timidity.

A crucial part of the observation is recording and tracking changes in a student's behaviour. Doing this provides evidence teachers can use to compare the student's progress level. This assessment method can be helpful as it's simple and requires little to no resources. As observation may be subjective, it yields better results when the teacher eliminates personal bias.

Oral presentation

There are several forms of oral presentations. For example, a teacher may organize an impromptu or unscheduled presentation on a particular topic or inform the students about the presentation to allow them time to prepare. A teacher could also merge written assignments with oral presentations or ask students to present speeches at any point during the lessons, calling a student to summarize the lessons from a previous class, for example. In addition, a teacher might give a prompt to help the students articulate their speech correctly. It's also common for oral presentations to occur within groups like debates.

With oral presentations, a teacher can give immediate feedback to students while the rest of the class listens and benefits from it. In addition, this assessment form is flexible, and a teacher can adjust it to match different contexts.

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