Diagnostic assessment

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The term diagnosis is often used with the sense of a detailed definition of a problem, such as a medical condition.

Diagnostic assessment involves the detailed definition not of a problem but of a learner's skills and knowledge. Unlike summative assessment, diagnostic assessment generally takes place near the beginning of a course of study, and is not used for certification. Instead, it is used to get a detailed 'snapshot' of the learner's current set of skills.

Diagnostic assessment is widely used to develop a learner's literacy profile - their current levels of skills in relation to pre-determined standards in a range of literacy areas.

The example below shows an extract from the literacy standards published by the UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority:


Note: New Zealand has developed similar standards for literacy and numeracy but these are not freely reproducible here.


Case Study: Brett

Brett's department is aware that there is a need to develop its learners' literacy skills.

As a first step, Brett has downloaded the Carpentry Literacy Profile from Workbase's Literacy job profiles page. He and his colleagues have developed a simple diagnostic assessment which they use at the beginning of the course to determine each learner's literacy profile.

Each learner then meets with a tutor to discuss the areas they need to develop and plan how this can be best done.


Extra resources

For more information on literacy standards, see:

  • The New Zealand Learning Progressions published by the National Centre of Literacy and Numeracy for Adults.
  • TEC's Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool

For more information on review of learning, see the Work-based learning section.