Copyright
Psychology Courses / Course / Chapter

Norm-Referenced Test vs. Criterion-Referenced Test

Bethany Calderwood, Natalie Boyd
  • Author
    Bethany Calderwood

    Bethany is a certified Special Education and Elementary teacher with 11 years experience teaching Special Education from grades PK through 5. She has a Bachelor's degree in Special Education, Elementary Education, and English from Gordon College and a Master's degree in Special Education from Salem State University.

  • Instructor
    Natalie Boyd

    Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Learn about norm-referenced vs. criterion-referenced tests. Study the criterion-referenced and norm-referenced test definitions and discover examples of each. Updated: 10/29/2021

Table of Contents

Show
Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced?

The difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests is in the scoring. A norm-referenced test compares the test-taker's score to a representative group, or norming group, and reports where the tester falls in relationship to other testers. The criterion-referenced test, on the other hand, compares a tester's score to an objective standard or criteria.

What is an example of a norm-referenced test?

Norm-referenced tests are standardized tests characterized by scoring that compares the performance of the test-taker to a norming group (a group with similar characteristics such as age or grade level). Examples of norm-referenced tests are the SAT and ACT and most IQ tests.

What is the purpose of norm-referenced tests?

The purpose of norm-referenced tests is to rank individuals in relation to others of a similar representative group. Norm-referenced tests are used for many purposes such as college entrance (the SAT and ACT) and IQ tests. A norm-referenced test assumes that the majority of test-takers will score in the average range, with a few people testing above and below average. The test reflects an individual's performance compared to that of others.

Psychological measurement is the process of using tools to evaluate one or more psychological trait or variable. Psychological traits include personality traits and emotional function as well as cognition. Cognition is a term that includes the processes of attention, learning, memory, language, perception, and thought. Specific tests have been designed to measure individual aspects of cognition, personality traits, and emotional function. These tests take a variety of forms.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Measurement

Ricki is an educational psychologist. She wants to do a study examining whether or not a certain curriculum will help students learn math skills. In order to figure that out, she has to put together a math test that the students will take after they've been exposed to the curriculum.

Psychological measurement is the process of evaluating psychological traits, including cognitive skills, like math, and other traits, like depression or altruism.

Measurement is the cornerstone of psychological studies. Without measurement, there is no way to gather data in a study. Without data, there is no way to know if your hypothesis is correct. For example, Ricki might think that the curriculum will help students learn math, but unless she measures their math skills, she won't have the data to show whether it actually does help or not.

There are many tools used in psychological measurement. When looking at cognitive, or thinking, skills, tests are usually used to measure outcomes. IQ tests are examples of psychological tests that measure cognitive skills. So is Ricki's math test.

Let's look at two different ways of scoring tests: norm-referenced and criterion-referenced.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Types of Measurement: Direct, Indirect & Constructs

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:07 Measurement
  • 1:24 Norm-Referenced
  • 3:05 Criterion-Referenced
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
Save Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

What is a norm-referenced test? A norm-referenced test is a type of standardized test (that is, a test that is identical for every test-taker). After the items on a norm-referenced test are scored, the scores are compared to those of a comparison group, or norming group. Because the test-taker is compared to other people, the results can be considered subjective.

A norm-referenced test compares the performance of the tester to that of other testers with similar characteristics or demographics.

A norm referenced test compares the tester to a group of similar testers.

To develop a norm-referenced test, the test developers select a statistically relevant group of individuals and administer the test items. The scores of this norming group are used to create the scoring system for that test. The composition of the norming group depends on the test, but factors considered usually include age or grade level, and may also be narrowed down by other demographic information. In addition, some tests are normed for more than one group. If so, a test administrator gives the test, then chooses the correct scoring system based on the subject's qualifications (i.e., the administrator uses a different scoring chart for a seven-year-old than for a twelve-year-old).

The norm-referenced test definition indicates that the results are reported as a percentage or a percentile ranking. The purpose of this number is to tell the test-taker what percentage of the norming group scored above and below them. Many test developers use a bell curve to organize their data. This means that they expect the largest percentage of test-takers to score in the middle range of the test, with smaller numbers of test-takers performing below average and above average.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

A criterion-referenced test is an objective assessment that compares a test-taker's performance to a set of fixed standards or objectives. Some criterion-referenced tests are standardized, while others are not. Criterion-referenced tests come in many formats and may be administered on a large-scale or small-scale basis. What makes a test criterion-referenced is the scoring process. The reported score represents the number of correct answers out of a total, rather than the test-taker's performance in comparison to others.

The differences between norm-referenced vs. criterion-referenced tests is that criterion-referenced tests compare performance to a standard, similar to a checklist.

A comparison of norm-referenced vs. criterion-referenced tests shows that criterion-referenced tests compare performance to a standard.

Examples of Criterion-Referenced Assessments

Criterion-referenced tests are found in many contexts. Some examples of criterion-referenced tests are:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

The strengths of norm-referenced testing lie in the fact that measurement of group performance relative to others in the same group can compensate for errors in test-making. If a test is too easy or too hard for a class, the norm-referenced comparison should still reflect levels of student achievement. The downside of norm-referenced testing is the subjectivity factor. In addition, if a norming group does not accurately reflect the group of test-takers, underrepresented groups of students may end up with lower scores.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Psychological measurement is using tools to assess psychological traits or variables. These traits include personality traits, emotional function, and cognition. Two major terms used to describe tests used for psychological measurement and other purpose are:

  • Norm-referenced: Tests that compare the tester's performance to the performance of peers in a norming group, usually of similar age or other demographic.
  • Criterion-referenced Tests that compare the tester's performance to an objective standard.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Norm-Referenced

Ricki wants to know if her curriculum will help students learn math skills, and she's written a math test for the students to take. But, how should she determine what passing means?

A norm-referenced test scores a test by comparing a person's performance to others who are similar. You can remember norm-referenced by thinking of the word 'normal.' The object of a norm-referenced test is to compare a person's performance to what is normal for other people like him or her.

Think of it kind of like a race. If a runner comes in third in a race, that doesn't tell us anything objectively about what the runner did. We don't know if she finished in 30 seconds or 30 minutes; we only know that she finished after two other runners and ahead of everyone else.

So, if Ricki decides to make her test norm-referenced, she would compare students to what is normal for that age, grade, or class. Examples of norm-referenced tests include the SAT, IQ tests, and tests that are graded on a curve. Anytime a test offers a percentile rank, it is a norm-referenced test. If you score at the 80th percentile, that means that you scored better than 80% of people in your group.

Norm-referenced tests are a good way to compensate for any mistakes that might be made in designing the measurement tool. For example, what if Ricki's math test is too easy, and everybody aces it? If it is a norm-referenced test, that's OK because you're not looking at the actual scores of the students but how well they did in relation to students in the same age group, grade, or class.

Criterion-Referenced

But, norm-referenced tests aren't perfect. They aren't completely objective and make it hard to know anything other than how someone did in comparison to others. But, what if we want to know about a person's performance without comparing them to others?

A criterion-referenced test is scored on an absolute scale with no comparisons made. It is interested in one thing only: did you meet the standards?

Video Transcript

Measurement

Ricki is an educational psychologist. She wants to do a study examining whether or not a certain curriculum will help students learn math skills. In order to figure that out, she has to put together a math test that the students will take after they've been exposed to the curriculum.

Psychological measurement is the process of evaluating psychological traits, including cognitive skills, like math, and other traits, like depression or altruism.

Measurement is the cornerstone of psychological studies. Without measurement, there is no way to gather data in a study. Without data, there is no way to know if your hypothesis is correct. For example, Ricki might think that the curriculum will help students learn math, but unless she measures their math skills, she won't have the data to show whether it actually does help or not.

There are many tools used in psychological measurement. When looking at cognitive, or thinking, skills, tests are usually used to measure outcomes. IQ tests are examples of psychological tests that measure cognitive skills. So is Ricki's math test.

Let's look at two different ways of scoring tests: norm-referenced and criterion-referenced.

Norm-Referenced

Ricki wants to know if her curriculum will help students learn math skills, and she's written a math test for the students to take. But, how should she determine what passing means?

A norm-referenced test scores a test by comparing a person's performance to others who are similar. You can remember norm-referenced by thinking of the word 'normal.' The object of a norm-referenced test is to compare a person's performance to what is normal for other people like him or her.

Think of it kind of like a race. If a runner comes in third in a race, that doesn't tell us anything objectively about what the runner did. We don't know if she finished in 30 seconds or 30 minutes; we only know that she finished after two other runners and ahead of everyone else.

So, if Ricki decides to make her test norm-referenced, she would compare students to what is normal for that age, grade, or class. Examples of norm-referenced tests include the SAT, IQ tests, and tests that are graded on a curve. Anytime a test offers a percentile rank, it is a norm-referenced test. If you score at the 80th percentile, that means that you scored better than 80% of people in your group.

Norm-referenced tests are a good way to compensate for any mistakes that might be made in designing the measurement tool. For example, what if Ricki's math test is too easy, and everybody aces it? If it is a norm-referenced test, that's OK because you're not looking at the actual scores of the students but how well they did in relation to students in the same age group, grade, or class.

Criterion-Referenced

But, norm-referenced tests aren't perfect. They aren't completely objective and make it hard to know anything other than how someone did in comparison to others. But, what if we want to know about a person's performance without comparing them to others?

A criterion-referenced test is scored on an absolute scale with no comparisons made. It is interested in one thing only: did you meet the standards?

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Teacher
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account