Assessment modes

Guidance on how different forms of assessment information can support improved learning

Purpose of the modes

The Assessment modes aligns with the agreed actions to strengthen high-quality assessment within Our Plan for NSW Public Education. They support conversations within schools on how assessment can be used to make on-balance professional judgements to monitor student learning and identify next steps.

The modes aims to provide:

  • a clear structure of different forms of assessment and assessment information
  • examples of what assessment within each mode looks like in practice
  • guidance on the purpose of assessment and how quality feedback can be used to inform next steps in student learning
  • an opportunity to reflect on current practice.
The modes of assessment is a breakdown of less formal and more formal, including examples. The modes of assessment is a breakdown of less formal and more formal, including examples.
Image: The four modes of assessment support teachers in making on-balance judgements of student learning.

Assessment modes

The four modes of assessment recognise the range of information that teachers use in making on-balanced judgements of student learning. Assessments within these modes should allow all students to demonstrate the depth of their understanding.


Unstructured assessment occurs frequently during a lesson at point of need. It provides information about whether an individual or class has understood an idea or concept. This approach uses responsive teaching to address the needs of an individual or class as they emerge. Immediate feedback is provided often to support the learning process. This is usually referred to as a formative use of assessment data as it identifies if further instruction is necessary or whether to progress to the next concept to be learned.

An unstructured assessment is typically undertaken with a specific knowledge, skill, or disposition in mind.


This includes responsive questioning or incidental teacher observation during a learning activity. This can be with individual students, small groups or using whole class questioning techniques.

These are unplanned observations and questioning that occur as needs are encountered within a lesson.

Use of data

Formal capture of this data by the teacher is not required since it is used at point of need within the classroom for immediate action. Numerous unstructured observations throughout lessons can assist in planning for more structured assessment. Data gathered from unstructured assessment is usually used formatively, informing the next steps in the learning.


Slightly structured assessment is used frequently throughout a learning sequence and has been considered prior to the learning taking place. These formative assessments are designed to be short specific activities to identify what students know and can do to inform next steps in teaching. They provide focused assessment of key ideas or concepts necessary to access other learning to take place. The choice of assessment approach may differ if it is focused on individuals, small groups, or a class of students. Feedback is often provided either immediately or slightly delayed, depending on how the teacher decides to assess the learning.

A slightly structured assessment usually assesses a small number of specific concepts that have been identified as difficult concepts through other modes of assessment, or from professional experience.


This can include reviewing student work, planned observations, short content quizzes, hinge questions, and peer or self-assessment opportunities.

Use of data

A slightly structured assessment may, but does not have to, involve some formal capture of student data or information. It can be used to monitor student learning progress and improvement around an identified area of need. Decisions about information collection are determined by whether data is used to

  • inform immediate next steps in learning
  • monitor student learning progress
  • form part of an on-balance judgement of student learning over time.

Data gathered from slightly structured assessments are formative but may also support more summative judgements.


More structured assessment occurs less frequently and are tasks that are programmed into a sequence of learning. Teachers design assessments to capture student learning that has occurred over a period of time and so they usually cover more content than an unstructured or slightly structured assessment. Students should still be able to demonstrate their understanding in different ways and teachers should consider whether students require adjustments to a more structured assessment do this effectively.

These assessments are often used with a class of students, though they can also be used with small groups or individual students for various purposes. Student feedback from more structured assessment is usually delayed due to marking being required by teachers. It is, however, most effective when students receive feedback promptly to action and consolidate their understanding. Students are more likely to act on feedback when it is first provided without a mark.

A more structured assessment usually covers a range of skill and knowledge outcomes after students have completed a sequence of learning.


This may include scheduled assessments, on-demand assessments, presentations, practical or research tasks or reviewing of student work against criteria. They can include an assessment of a process across time as well as the final product.

Use of data

Data from more structured assessment is usually formally captured by teachers to support monitoring of student learning progress and teacher reflective practice for learning programs. It should, however, be regarded as a point-in-time measure of student learning. Information from more structured assessments should be considered alongside information from other less structured assessments to make on-balance judgements about student learning progress.


The most structured assessments are often large-scale assessments of student learning across different school settings. These are usually standardised and provide comparative data against an external backdrop, such as state-level data or a proficiency standard, to inform monitoring of whole school or cohort progress. They provide holistic measures of student learning that can be viewed alongside other assessment information from in-school assessments.

Since they are broad measures, around one to two years of learning is needed to reliably measure progress between assessments. Feedback from these assessments can identify potential areas of strength and areas for consideration in planning and programming for student learning. Student results can also be considered when providing information to parents or carers on the learning progress student learning.

These assessments typically provide a large number of outcomes, having only a few questions on each outcome or content points. They provide a broad measure of student learning over an extended period of time.


This includes assessment programs such as NAPLAN, Check-in reading and numeracy assessments and VALID Science. There are also a number of third-party assessments that provide broad standardised measures of student learning.

Use of data

Data from these most structured assessments is often used to provide an external reference point from the school, such as state-level data for comparison or alignment to an achievement level or standard. They can support schools with calibrating information from their own internal assessments by providing a more representative sample of the achievement of a broader population of students. These assessments can support holistic monitoring of progress over time for a cohort or individual to identify whether students have progressed as expected from previous data. They are not usually designed to monitor progress at a more granular outcome level, but the data can indicate areas for further exploration using other less structured, but more targeted approaches.

On-balance judgement

Assessment information gathered from across the modes should be used to make on-balance judgements of student learning. Information from less structured approaches, such as classroom observation and review of student work, is valuable. More structured assessments, programmed into learning as summative tasks, often occur at a single point in time and so can have other factors influence student performance. Information from less structured assessments should also be considered along with more formal assessments to develop reliable judgements of demonstrated student learning.

On-balance judgement is when teacher observations, assessment data and student work samples come together. On-balance judgement is when teacher observations, assessment data and student work samples come together.
Image: Using information to make an on-balance judgement.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
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