Why Use A Pre-Assessment?

An earlier post looked at a range of ways in which post-quiz remedial feedback can be constructive. What about pre-course assessments, or pre-assessments? Apart from setting the tone and context for a course, a pre-assessment is useful for instructor and learner alike; in fact, it can work towards improving learner motivation too.

Let’s ask a precise question: If an instructor were about to administer or facilitate a course, how would it help to conduct a pre-assessment?

The starting point is that it helps the instructor plan, modify, demarcate. When you do a pre-assessment, you understand how much the learner knows, what information or skills need to be brought up to speed, and so on. With this understanding, you might:

  • Fine-tune the course (if the structure allows it)
  • Change pace and timing
  • Divide learners into groups if feasible

A common pre-assessment point for children is to find out what the child knows, and then, what he would like to know. For adult learners, the equivalent would be to first explain what the upcoming course is about, then conduct a pre-course assessment. The results would clarify to the learner what he knows (in the context of the course content). He could then be asked to evaluate, by himself, what he needs to learn more about. The instructor can then explain how—and to what extent—the course will address those areas.

The mapping between “what is needed” and “what the course gives” has tremendous potential: It creates context, focus, and thereby, motivation. What’s interesting is that it’s quite easy to achieve even when many people will be taking a course. If a pre-assessment has been done, it’s just a matter of the instructor/facilitator asking a question and getting back.

After the pre-assessment has been conducted and the results discussed, the learner:

  • Has a clear picture of what’s in the course for him
  • Knows whether knowledge/skill prerequisites are implied
  • Has an idea of the level of difficulty of the course
  • Can plan his time, and level of commitment, accordingly
  • Can set his own pace for the course (if the structure allows it)

A post-assessment often complements the pre-assessment. With the learner being aware that a post-assessment will come up, it’s natural to try and address pre-assessment weaknesses as the course progresses. This, again, focuses and motivates. For some learners, it can effect the change from “I need to complete this course” to “I need to get from here to there”!