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Practical Skills Assessment


This assessment type focuses on whether, and/or how well, a student is ‘observed’ to perform a specific practical skill, technique or competency (or series of skills, techniques, or competencies). It is often called the direct observation of practical skills (DAP).  Students’ skills are assessed either in the presence of the examiner (e.g. observation of clinical skills in medicine) or when a record is made of them performing the skill (e.g. a recording of oral language skills) and shared with the examiner.  Examples include clinical skills, oral and aural skills, laboratory techniques, studio work, surveying skills, psychomotor skills, etc. 

Indirect Assessment of practical skills is where students’ practical skills are described by them in a written exam or through some other secondary form of assessment (for example, Exam, Report)

What can it assess ?

This type of assessment is particularly effective to evaluate and assess a student’s ability to perform a practical skill or set of skills. It can assess students’ ability to demonstrate knowledge and/or integrate performance into practice.  It may be undertaken in a classroom, laboratory, studio, clinic, practice or work-based environment. Commonly used examples of practical assessments include laboratory techniques, studio work, oral language exams, music performance exams and more formalised  assessments such as the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), Direct Observation of Procedural Skills (DOPS)

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • The validity of such assessments can be very high
  • They are often very authentic for the student and can be considered valuable in employability skills development 
  • Balances the practical and theoretical components of a module


  • Requires expert judgment and moderation
  • Need for clear assessment criteria to ensure validity (concurrent and predictive)
  • May be costly and time consuming
  • May require specific space and or equipment set-up

Design and Online Assessment Considerations


A key design consideration is to embed a series of practical skills components as formative assessment/learning activities throughout the module. This allows the provision of multiple means to deliver and receive feedback for both the learner and faculty member. Consider how best to integrate such activities throughout the module timeline so that there is ample opportunity for preparation and the option to respond and adapt to feedback received. Each assessment should clearly enable the individual to demonstrate their practical ability or competency. It is important to devise clear and transparent assessment criteria to support the learners in undertaking these activities. Practical skills early in the programme may use more analytic criteria (sum of the parts of the different skills), however later on in the programme the criteria may be more holistic to allow for various ways to accurately perform the tasks (See Designing Grading and Feedback Rubrics)

Online Assessment

Brightspace can support the submission of media based files that may be used as evidence of a practical skills assessment component. In the case where students record videos of their skill, to upload to Brightspace, ensure they have access to the technology they require to complete it. Consider the length required, for example, shorter videos may work better. One may also consider utilising the virtual classroom (Zoom) to facilitate discussion on the preparatory work and/or, where relevant and available, use simulation equipment and software to prepare students. The virtual classroom may also be considered to facilitate the assessment of practical skills where students and examiners are at different locations. Brightspace would be able to support the scaffolding of the activity by utilising rubrics, check-lists, self-assessments etc.

Tools and technologies that support this assessment type include:

Preparing Students

It is important to prepare the students for any practical skills assessment. There should be opportunities for students to practice prior to the assessment and to engage in critiquing previous examples of skills performance.  Ensure there is a clear understanding of the process involved i.e. specific/annotated learning objectives and outcomes. Share the assessment criteria with the students and this may even be used as a framework for self/peer assessment.