Criterion-referenced and norm-referenced assessments: compatibility and complementarity

Beatrice Lok, Carmel McNaught, Kenneth Young

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


The tension between criterion-referenced and norm-referenced assessment is examined in the context of curriculum planning and assessment in outcomes-based approaches to higher education. This paper argues the importance of a criterion-referenced assessment approach once an outcomes-based approach has been adopted. It further discusses the implementation of criterion-referenced assessment, considering to what extent the criteria and standards adopted are implicitly norm referenced. It introduces a compatible interpretation of criterion-referenced and norm-referenced assessments in higher education, and illustrates how their combined use can avoid grade inflation and also provide useful information to educators, employers and learners. Instead of seeing criterion referencing and norm referencing as a dichotomy, assessment in higher education benefits from their synthesis through a feedback loop that emphasises alignment between learning and assessment; such feedback and alignment are essential features of quality assurance and enhancement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-465
Number of pages16
JournalAssessment and Evaluation in Higher Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • criterion referencing
  • grade inflation
  • norm referencing
  • outcomes-based approaches

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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