Challenges facing VET – Assessing knowledge in VET?

Challenges facing VET


Assessment faces many challenges; one in particular is that Assessment practices are typically designed by individuals without specialist test design skills.  Another challenge is that such Assessment practices are then “Validated” by individuals who lack specific skills in test evaluation. The result is impossibly wide variation in the relative quality of assessments across RTOs – With the consequence that there is wide variation in outcomes.

These observations apply equally to the assessment of both skills and knowledge; however, here, I will focus on challenges specific to the assessment of knowledge.

Four questions about knowledge assessment

I will address this by proposing answers to four questions below:

Q1. Why do we assess Knowledge in VET?

In VET we commonly assess Knowledge for several reasons including (but not limited to) the list below:

  • To predict transferability of observed skills to different contexts
  • To predict the future performance of knowledge recall
  • To diagnose reasons for performance – To distinguish skill from knowledge
  • To identify knowledge gaps

Q2. How do we assess knowledge in VET?

The list below is not exhaustive; it covers the methods I have encountered in my time in VET:

  • Quizzes and choice-based Exams (Formative and Summative) under a variety of test conditions
  • Verbal responses to questions while performing a task in the workplace (or simulated workplace)
  • Verbal responses to questions in a competency interview
  • Written responses embodying declarative knowledge (short answer, essay)

Q3. What’s wrong with this?

  1. Accommodation of multiple attempts/open-book/unlimited time
  2. Evidence collected is inauthentic (copying/plagiarism)
  3. Excess assessor support (“scaffolding”, telling candidates what to write). Providing the candidate with test questions before the test
  4. Poor fit with the CBA “evidence-capture” model- For example the acceptance of “copy and paste” into a template as a surrogate for a genuine response
  5. Knowledge assessment tasks at the wrong level
  6. Insufficient “forgetting time” (not testing recall)
  7. Ineffective Validation techniques fail to identify inappropriate assessment of knowledge

Q4. What should be done about it?

The following lists several suggestions for improving Knowledge assessment practice in VET:

  1. Require high-stakes summative assessment quizzes are extensive, timed, closed book and invigilated
  2. Use plagiarism detection and remediation processes as part of the standard Assessment process
  3. Prescribe clear limitations to assessor support/scaffolding within the Assessment Tool
  4. Validate to distinguish clearly between the quality of evidence captured and quality of knowledge/learning
  5. Design tasks to assess knowledge at the right level (The design explicitly references the AQF level and perhaps even Bloom’s Taxonomic category)
  6. Test knowledge recall not just short-term memory
  7. Validate Knowledge tests results for both predictive and concurrent validity and test, re-test reliability
  8. Externally (as part of ASQA RTO renewal Audits), retest a sample of RTO graduates against a national standard test

Concluding remarks:

I’ve characterised my proposal in the form of a list of suggestions in the hope of promoting thoughtful discussion. However, I have also provided this list to support the view that creating Knowledge assessments that are fit for purpose is a specialist skill of expert instructional designers working in collaboration with subject matter experts and experienced assessors; it should not be left to the assessors alone. Finally, I propose that the skills of validation practitioners be improved (particularly those of ASQA appointed Auditors and so-called “Validation specialists”) to ensure that Australian VET knowledge assessment practices achieve the outcomes to which they aspire.

(5 December 2019)

What do you think?

Join the discussion of this and other Challenges at the VET PD Group – Community of Practice.

About the Author:

Sean Kelly is VET Trainer/Assessor and Consultant to a broad cross-section of the VET world.  He is author of the essay entitled, Is there a “blacklist” or a “whitelist” for the TAE40116 Upgrade, which is published HERE.

About this series 

There are many challenges facing VET.  One of them is the need for the industry’s own voice to be shared in a way that adds more light than heat.

This article is one in a series that will seek to explore some of those challenges.   The full series is available from HERE.

Invitation to Contribute

Contributions from others that explore issues and ideas in a polite and non-inflammatory manner are welcome, and may be sent to

If you would like to present an alternate view to one published, then you are most welcome to that as well.

Full attribution and relevant links will be provided for contributors.



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