Using ExamSoft to Realize the Benefits of Ipsative Assessments

Using normative or standardized graded assessments, instructors can evaluate individual student performance relative to current and past peers. As valuable as the traditional criterion-referenced and norm-referenced assessment modes can be in grading against a static set of criteria, there is increasing debate as to whether these should be supplemented by ipsative assessment methods.

Traditional assessments are excellent for showcasing the strongest students in a class and grading the class as a whole, but they aren’t a fit with every academic objective. One objective for which ipsative assessments are better aligned is maximizing the performance of students for whom the material does not come as naturally.

If the objective is to maximize individual student mastery, instructors can use ipsative assessments to track student progress over time. “Ipsative” derives from the Latin word ipse, meaning “of the self.” In education, “ipsative” refers to comparing an individual’s performance against their own past performances. By removing the futility of competing against students whose aptitudes are better matched with a subject and whose mastery is greater at the moment, students gain motivation from focusing on self-improvement.

Self-improvement is a familiar concept and can be a benefit to educators and students alike. Given that many students have already successfully gauged their own progress in other areas of life, such as sports, nutrition, health, and finance, there is certainly a place for ipsative assessment in education. Research shows that a “growth mindset” correlates highly with career success. 

Benefits of Ipsative Assessments

Instructors of all kinds are well-served by learning about the many forms of assessment and the benchmarks that measure student and educator success. Focusing on the progress that an individual student or trainee makes provides many benefits for both parties.

For students:

  • Helps students to “own” and feel a sense of control over their academic experience and individual development.
  • Provides a basis for students to take pride in their accomplishments.
  • Offers ongoing internal motivation for making progress, rather than punishment for falling short of a group standard.
  • Values the rate of improvement over specific competency measures; a student who improves more but shows a lower normative assessment score may actually be a faster learner.
  • Improves retention when a student is tested multiple times, instead of just one time with the same exam material.
  • Borrows progress tracking as a motivational tool from disciplines like athletics, health, and nutrition, so many students are familiar with the concept and enjoy the process.

For educators:

  • Enables instructors to track their effectiveness with different segments of students, from those who have aligned aptitudes to those who may be stronger in other areas.
  • Helps identify the students on an upward trajectory who are most willing to learn.
  • Empowers educators to become better at maximizing any individual student’s learning outcomes, not just the strongest students’ outcomes.
  • Enables targeted and detailed feedback based on areas of greatest and least improvement over time.

Leveraging Ipsative Assessment Objectives Through ExamSoft

ExamSoft supports educators in their core mission of maximizing a variety of student outcomes. In addition to higher education, ExamSoft helps businesses, organizations, and government entities in the areas of allied health, business, law, medical, and nursing.

The Strengths & Opportunities Report (see below) can be organized to show how the student performs over time in a variety of disciplines or content categories. It can identify where the student is doing well, needs review, or is at-risk so that professors or work supervisors can tailor an improvement plan.

When ipsative assessments are used in a professional environment, they help to keep anxiety at bay. The professional being tested knows the ultimate goal is reaching specific competencies, and they can focus on doing this quickly, rather than competing with peers who may be currently achieving higher scores. This leads to the kind of self-reflection and motivation it takes to master a subject, without the damaging comparisons that can derail such an effort.

When context is important, the Strengths & Opportunities Report can be modified to include normative assessment data as well, including the student score, average, mean, rank, percentile rank, and ranges for specific competencies. A student can achieve a personal best score and may want to know how it compares with others; ExamSoft enables that context and flexibility. It can be anything from a personal progress tracker to a reference board. The possible configurations are all about aligning with and optimizing your educational objectives.

ExamSCORE for assignment grading and performance assessments is also a great way to apply a static rubric in order to realize the benefits of both normative and ipsative assessments. The criteria of the rubric set the standard, and a student’s performance is rated against the rubric. This allows instructors to evaluate performance levels based on objective descriptors and comment on each criterion. Applying a common standard to all students allows for fairer assessment. If a student is rated as “Fair” on a rubric that spans from Poor to Good, they know that their performance was not inadequate, however there is room for improvement, both at a personal level and in comparison to broader standards.


iTeachU.uaf: Ipsative Assessment

American Institute for Learning and Human Development: 10 Things Educators Should Know About Ipsative Assessments

Psychology Teaching Review: Making Assessment Promote Effective Learning Practices: An Example of Ipsative Assessment from the School of Psychology at UEL