In conclusion, criterion referenced and norm referenced assessment both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Criterion referenced testing is best suited for measuring a student’s mastery of specific skills while norm referencing helps to compare students against each other. Ultimately, the decision between which type of test is best used depends on the goal of assessment and context in which it takes place.

What are Criterion Referenced Tests?

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Picture of a person answering a MCQ paper

Criterion-referenced tests (CRTs) are designed to measure students’ knowledge and skills relative to an explicit set of learning standards or objectives. CRTs differ from norm-referenced tests (NRTs) in that they do not compare students’ scores to those of other test-takers, but rather evaluate each student’s performance against a predetermined set of criteria. In general, CRTs are used to assess mastery of specific content areas, while NRTs are used to rank students in relation to one another.

What are Norm Referenced Tests?

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Picture of students answering an exam paper

A norm referenced test (NRT) is an assessment that measures how well a student performs in comparison to other students. It provides a rank or percentile score that indicates where the student falls in relation to others who have taken the same test.

NRTs are often used for college admissions or to assess students’ progress over time. They can be useful in identifying areas of strength and weakness, but they have some limitations. Because NRTs compare students to one another, they don’t provide information about the absolute level of achievement. In addition, scoring can be affected by factors such as the test-taking population and the difficulty of the test.

Despite these limitations, NRTs can be helpful in providing a general sense of how a student is doing relative to others.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Criterion Referenced Tests

Criterion-referenced tests (CRTs) are assessments that measure an individual’s performance against a specific set of criteria or standards. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of using CRTs:


  • Clear standards: CRTs provide clear and specific performance standards, making it easier for students, teachers, and parents to understand what is expected of them.
  • Personalized learning: CRTs help identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing teachers to tailor instruction to meet their individual needs.
  • Objective assessment: CRTs are designed to be objective and reliable, as they focus on specific skills or knowledge rather than general ability or intelligence.
  • Alignment with curriculum: CRTs are often aligned with the curriculum, ensuring that students are tested on what they have been taught and what is expected of them.


  • Limited scope: CRTs only measure a specific set of skills or knowledge, which may not provide a comprehensive picture of a student’s overall performance or ability.
  • Teaching to the test: Teachers may focus on teaching only the material that will be covered on the CRT, rather than providing a well-rounded education.
  • Pressure to perform: CRTs can create pressure for students to perform, leading to anxiety and stress.
  • Limited comparability: CRTs may not be comparable across different schools or districts, making it difficult to compare performance or assess the effectiveness of educational programs.

CRTs can be useful tools for assessing specific skills or knowledge, but they should be used in conjunction with other forms of assessment to provide a more complete picture of student performance. It is also important to use CRTs in a balanced way, avoiding over-reliance on testing and ensuring that instruction remains focused on overall student development.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Norm Referenced Tests

Norm-referenced tests (NRTs) are assessments that compare an individual’s performance to that of a larger group of test-takers. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of using NRTs:


  • Comparison: NRTs allow for comparison of an individual’s performance to that of a larger group of test-takers, providing a better understanding of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Standardization: NRTs are standardized, which means that they are designed to measure the same skills or knowledge in the same way for everyone who takes the test.
  • Wide range of scores: NRTs typically provide a wide range of scores, allowing for differentiation between individuals who perform at different levels.
  • Predictive value: NRTs can have predictive value for future academic and professional success.


  • Limited focus: NRTs may not measure all the skills and knowledge that are important for success in a particular field or subject area.
  • Unfairness: NRTs can be unfair to certain groups of test-takers, particularly those who come from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds, or who have disabilities.
  • Pressure to perform: NRTs can create pressure for students to perform, leading to anxiety and stress.
  • Inflexibility: NRTs may not be able to measure unique talents or skills that a student may possess, which can limit the potential for identifying individual strengths.

NRTs can be useful tools for measuring individual performance and predicting future success. However, it is important to use NRTs in conjunction with other forms of assessment to provide a more complete picture of student performance. It is also important to be mindful of the limitations and potential biases of NRTs, and to use them in a balanced and fair way.

What are examples of criterion-referenced assessments?

criterion-referenced assessments are those that measure how well a student has mastered a specific set of skills or knowledge, as opposed to how they compare to other students. In other words, these assessments are used to identify what a student can do, rather than what they cannot do.

There are many different types of criterion-referenced assessments, but some common examples include:

End-of-unit tests: These assess whether students have achieved the learning objectives for a particular unit of study.

Competency-based exams: These evaluate whether students have attained the required level of proficiency in a particular skill or subject area.

Portfolios: A portfolio is a collection of student work that can be used to assess their progress over time. This type of assessment is often used in arts and humanities courses.

Work samples: These are pieces of student work that are used to evaluate their mastery of specific skills or knowledge.

What are examples of norm-referenced assessments?

A norm-referenced assessment is an evaluation of a student’s performance in comparison to a predetermined average or norm. This type of assessment is used to measure how well students are doing in relation to others, and can be used to identify areas where students need improvement. Some examples of norm-referenced assessments include standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, and IQ tests.

Which method is better?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which method is better, as both criterion-referenced tests (CRTs) and norm-referenced tests (NRTs) have their advantages and disadvantages.

CRTs are useful for measuring specific skills or knowledge, providing clear performance standards, and tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. They are particularly useful in measuring mastery of specific skills or competencies, such as in vocational or technical training.

NRTs, on the other hand, are useful for comparing an individual’s performance to that of a larger group, providing a wide range of scores, and predicting future success. They are particularly useful in evaluating a student’s overall aptitude or ability, such as in college admissions or for standardized achievement tests.

Ultimately, the choice of which method to use depends on the purpose of the assessment and the context in which it will be used. Both CRTs and NRTs can be useful in different situations and should be used in a balanced and fair way to provide a more complete picture of student performance.


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