Why should I do this? 

Authentic assessments replicate real-world situations and tasks. Authenticity is not a dichotomy (authentic or not authentic) but rather lies along a continuum. 

  • Authentic assessments can be motivating for students, and students are likely to see the value in tasks that are authentic. 
  • Authentic assessments can help students develop expertise and be able to transfer what they are learning in the classroom to experiences they will encounter after graduation. 
  • Authentic assessments can provide opportunities for students to practice integrating and synthesizing knowledge. These authentic experiences can help prepare students to enter a professional setting where they will be confronted with ill-structured problems that impact individuals and society and do not have a clear solution.  

How can I do this?

  • Modify problems so that they are multifaceted and situated in context. In these more authentic problems, students have to integrate multiple concepts when determining a solution. These types of problems can be incorporated into individual or group exams. It is important to note that students need practice with these types of problems prior to an examExample (Thermodynamics): “You are in charge of drinks at a picnic that will start at 3pm. You place ice inside a cooler at 6am, when the temperature outside is 10C. The day is forecast to warm up steadily to reach 30C by 3pm. Estimate how much ice you will need” (Ogilvie, 2009, p. 3). In this problem, students must consider multiple concepts (heat required to melt ice and heat transfer through the cooler wall) and students are not provided with all the quantities needed to solve the problem (material of cooler, thickness of cooler wall). To answer this question, students must identify the relevant concepts, estimate the required quantities, analyze the problem, and build a solution.  
  • Provide additional context for existing assignments. Small changes to existing assessments can make these tasks more authentic. For example, if students write a report summarizing their work (in a lab, on a project), indicate who the audience is for the report (e.g., executives at XYZ company, the project manager, the client who has hired the team to determine a recommendation, etc.). 
  • Incorporate projects where students must define an ill-structured problem, determine what is relevant, and work as a team to identify appropriate solution(s). 
  • Design assessments that ask students to demonstrate skills needed in their professional (or personal) lives. Consider the skills students will need to use (communication, teamwork, engineering judgment, problem solving, etc.) and/or the products they will need to generate (reports, visualizations, prototypes, recommendations) in their professional (or personal) lives in the future. Incorporate assessments to help students develop, refine, and demonstrate these skills. Example I (communication, teamwork): students submit weekly memos (audience = supervisor at work) outlining their progress for the week (in the class, on a project, etc.). Example II (communication, problem solving): for select problems on the homeworks and exam, students explain how they approached the problem, assumptions they made when solving the problem, and the principle(s) that was relevant in approaching the problem.  


  • Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons. 
  • Litzinger, T., Lattuca, L. R., Hadgraft, R., & Newstetter, W. (2011). Engineering education and the development of expertise. Journal of Engineering Education100(1), 123–150. 
  • Ogilvie, C. A. (2009). Changes in students’ problem-solving strategies in a course that includes context-rich, multifaceted problems. Physical Review Special Topics—Physics Education Research, 5(2), 1–14. 
  • Sheppard, S., Macatangay, K., Colby, A., & Sullivan, W. M. (2009). Educating engineers: designing for the future of the field. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass 
  • Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Authentic assessment: Testing in reality. New directions for Teaching and learning2004(100), 23–29.