Practicality, reliability, and validity – three things all good tests must have

What makes up a good assessment? Any good assessment will be practical, reliable, and valid. In this article I’m going to go over what each of these are and why they are important for assessments.


Every good assessment has to be practical. In an ideal world all assessments would be identical to what the target task is. If you are testing an English as a second language learner and their ability to provide customer service in English while working in a hotel, the ideal way to test and see if a learner can actually do that task is to actually have the learner go to a hotel and work with customers; however, this isn’t very practical.

The first reason why this isn’t practical is that if a student messes up, the business could really suffer. This however, wouldn’t be an issue if the target task was something less risky. If the target task is using a foreign language to buy an item and you have access to speakers of that language, a student could go and try doing the actual task. If they fail the task, there really isn’t much of a risk of losing anything.

The bigger issue with practicality is that if you have a class of many students, it would be nearly impossible for all students to be able to complete a task like this in a reasonable amount of time. If you only needed one student to complete a task like shopping using a foreign language, it wouldn’t be much of a hassle; however, imagine having a class of ten students. You would need to take ten students to a place where you could administer the assessment, actually administer the assessment, and grade the assessment. Additionally, you’d have to do all of that in the time and resources that your school provides you.

When designing assessments, it’s usually worth it to have an assessment that is a little less like the real task if it is much more practical to do so.


A test also have to be reliable. This means that the test results are consistent and dependable. If students of similar skill level take an assessment, they should should receive a similar grade. Additionally, if the students were to retake the assessment, their scores should be similar to the previous score, assuming that the students didn’t study more after taking the first assessment.


The last thing a good test needs is validity. Validity answers the question “does the test actually measure what it is intended to measure?” There should be a strong relationship with what the assessment is measuring and how that reflects the student’s ability to do the test in a real life situation.


These are the three main things you should think about when designing any assessment. These factors should be considered if you are designing something like an exam in school or even if you are designing an assessment for professionals such as a licensing exam.

What to sound more like a native English speaker?

What to read next:

If you are interested in learning about assessment, you should read my article covering norm referenced and criterion referenced tests.

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