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Observational Assessments—why and how

30 Nov 2012

In this article, we will look at:

  • What an observational assessment is
  • The advantages of observational assessments
  • Potential biases
  • Observational assessment tools

What is an observational assessment?

An observational assessment is a test where an observer watches a participant perform a task and rates theirperformance, makingit possible to evaluate skills or abilities that are difficult to measure using “traditional” assessments.

Benefits of observational assessments


As Jim Farrell noted in a previous post,

“By allowing a mentor to observe someone perform while applying a rubric to their performance, you allow for not only analytics of performance but the ability to compare to other individuals or to agreed benchmarks for performing a task. Also, feedback collected during the assessment can be displayed in a coaching report for later debriefing and learning.”


Compared to other forms of assessment, observational assessments produce almost instant results as the assessment takes place in real-time.


Test subjects are more likely to perform better if an assessor can show them practical examples of a task. It can also help the assessor find possible room for improvement or skill gaps.

Bias in observational assessment

The primary type of bias in observational assessments is observer bias.

Observer bias is a difference between a true value and the value someone has seen due to ‘observer variation’ (when the observer fails to measure accurately). Biases like these canlead to significant errors that affect test results and undermine processes.

These sorts of biases are common as multiple observers or assessors may judge a task differently. For example, in a diving competition, there are usually 5 judges and they all score based on their observations alongside a set of criteria. Some judges may score highly and round up while others may score lower and round down. One way to mitigate potential observer bias in this scenario is to ignore the highest and lowest scores.

Observational assessment tools

Examples of tools you may need to conduct an observational assessment include:

  • Test equipment
  • A rubric
  • A scoring sheet
  • Audiovisual footage
  • A scoring system

Read our article for examples of how different types of organizations capture performance data and measure competencies using observational assessments.


With this guide, you’ll understand how observational assessments work, their advantages, some of their biases, and tools that can help you assess candidates efficiently.

We provide an online assessment platform to help you carry out remote tests and assess the suitability of candidates –book a demo today or contact us to learn more.

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