'Formal Assessment' vs 'Informal Assessment': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on September 14, 2023

‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment’: What’s the difference? This article will not only be a lesson in adjectives and vocabulary but will show us how we can combine individual parts to make a more specific whole. 

In a rush? Let’s take a sneak peek at what’s to come: 

  • ‘Assessment’ is a word that means an evaluation or test of something
  • ‘Formal’ is a word that means officially sanctioned or professional
  • ‘Informal’ is a word that means unofficial or casual

What’s the Difference Between ‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment’?

When we have terms that involve descriptors, it’s best to make sure we understand the root of the term before defining any additives. The root of our new terms is the word ‘Assessment.’

  • ‘Assessment’ is a noun that means the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something. This can come in the form of a test or judgment

By adding an adjective in front of the word ‘Assessment,’ we can make assumptions about the quality or kind of ‘Assessment.’

  • Remember that an adjective is a word or phrase naming an attribute, added to, or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it. 

In our case, the adjectives in question are ‘Formal’ and ‘Informal,’ which tell us how official something is or isn’t. Formality can tell us about the status of a person or event, and give us context about the level of seriousness of an event. 

Having trouble finding which word means ‘not official’? We can use prefixes to help us. Remember that prefixes are letters added to the beginning of a word that change their meaning, and we’re going to focus on the prefix “in-,” which means “not.”

  • So the word ‘Informal’ means “not formal,” which we can see in other words with the same prefix. For example, how ‘invisible’ means “not visible” or how the word ‘incomplete’ means “not complete.”

Since we now have a better grasp on which adjective mean formal and not formal, we can take a closer look at how those words modify and describe the word ‘Assessment’. Let’s dive in. 

Definition of ‘Formal’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Formal’ is an adjective that means:

  • Done in accordance with rules of convection or etiquette; suitable for or constituting an official or important situation or occasion
    • “A formal dinner party.”
  • (of a person or their manner) prim or stiff
    • “He was formal in his clothing and manner.”
  • Of or denoting a style of writing or public speaking characterized by more elaborate grammatical structures and more conservative and technical vocabulary
  • Officially sanctioned or recognized
    • “A formal complaint.”
  • Having a conventionally recognized form, structure, or set of rules
    • “He had little formal education.”
  • Of or concerned with outward form or appearance, especially as distinct from content or matter
    • “I don’t know enough about art to appreciate the formal qualities.”

Synonyms of ‘Formal’

  • Polite
  • Precise
  • Established
  • Ceremonial
  • Legal
  • Orderly
  • Stiff
  • Proper
  • Strict

Antonyms of ‘Formal

  • Ambiguous
  • Casual
  • Inaccurate
  • Indefinite
  • Customary
  • Relaxed
  • Normal

Phrases with ‘Formal’

  • Formal event
  • Formal wear
  • Formal procedure

Definition of ‘Formal Assessment’: What Does it Mean?

According to the Dictionary, ‘Formal Assessment’ is a term that refers to:

  • A data-driven method of evaluation, usually with well-defined grading parameters; the assessment method and grading criterion are fixed and the same for all participants
    • “He would be formally assessed by the manager.”
  • (In education) a systematic pre-planned test that allows teachers to measure how well a student has mastered learning outcomes 
    • “Students took formal assessments after every unit.”

‘Formal Assessments’ often appear in an educational or classroom setting, but can also be conducted in the workplace.

Here is a list of types of ‘Formal Assessments’:

  • SAT testing or ACT testing
  • Salary raise assessments
  • Criterion-referenced assessment (CRA)
  • Final exams
  • Pop quizzes 
  • Academic writing or essays 

In essence, a ‘Formal Assessment’ is one where there is clear intent to test a participant’s knowledge on a certain subject. The main thing that connects all of these is that the participants know they are being tested. While it’s not a required feature of a ‘Formal Assessment,’ it is more common. 

Definition of ‘Informal’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Informal’ is an adjective which means:

  • Having a relaxed, friendly, unofficial style, manner, or nature
    • “An informal atmosphere.”
  • Of or denoting a style of writing or conversational speech characterized by simple grammatical structures, familiar vocabulary, and use of idioms, e.g., tu in French
  • Of a dress, casual, suitable for everyday wear
    • “She put on an informal frock to go shopping.”
  • Marked by the absence of formality or ceremony
    • “They had an informal meeting.”

Synonyms of ‘Informal’

  • Casual 
  • Simple
  • Intimate
  • Relaxed
  • Spontaneous
  • Straightforward
  • Unofficial
  • Colloquial

Antonyms of ‘Informal’

  • Formal
  • Buttoned-up
  • Ceremonious
  • Official
  • Rigid
  • Dressed-up
  • Stiff
  • Fancy
  • Established

Phrases with ‘Informal’

  • Informal gathering
  • Informal attire

Definition of ‘Informal Assessment’: What Does it Mean?

According to the Dictionary, ‘Informal Assessment’ is a term that refers to:

  • An intuitive evaluation method where a subject is assessed without measuring their performance against some rubric or metric
  • Non-standardized evaluation measures that are often personalized to the subject
    • “The students received an informal assessment at the end of the week.”

‘Informal Assessments’ are often performance-based and should be used to guide instruction. They are also not bound to a specific style or schedule.

Here are some examples of types of ‘Informal Assessments’:

  • Giving a presentation
  • Job performance reviews
  • Rough draft edits
  • Closed-ended surveys 
  • Demonstration stations/ show and tell
  • Student-created quizzes 
  • Creative writing

‘Informal Assessments’ are more geared towards growth within the participant, and are more casual due to their general lack of penalty — such as, for example, a bad grade. 

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment’

Since many types of evaluations are done orally, it is important to be able to say these new terms aloud along with being able to read them. The guides below will help you comfortably pronounce ‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment correctly.

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Formal Assessment’ as a guide:

  • ‘For-muhl Uh-seh-ss-mint’ (the ‘a’ in both words is swallowed, sounding more like the vowel in “fun” or “under”)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Informal Assessment’ as a guide: 

  • ‘In-for-muhl Uh-seh-ss-mint’ (note the pronunciations are the same, just add the prefix “in-”)

How to Use ‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment’ in a Sentence

The final step to mastering any new terms is feeling confident using them in your own scenarios. Look at the sample sentences below for reference on the variety of contexts in which these words can appear. Then, informally assess your knowledge by writing sentences of your own.

‘Formal Assessment’ Example Sentences

  • Many colleges are no longer requiring students to put any formal assessment scores on their applications to make things more holistic. 
  • The formal assessment for the end of their music class was a combination of being graded on technique drills and the performance of a short piece. 
  • He hoped the final exam didn’t include multiple choice because those always made him nervous on formal assessments

‘Informal Assessment’ Example Sentences

  • After writing their first paper, the students check in with their teacher for a self-graded informal assessment of their work. 
  • The director of the dance company informally assessed the students as she stopped in to check on the progress of the class. 
  • Informal assessments allow teachers to keep track of their classes’ progress while not adding stress to their students’ lives. 

‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment’ Example Sentences

  • Turning in an essay to be graded is a formal assessment while turning in creative writing for first-draft feedback is a type of informal assessment
  • Many believe that informal assessments are a better way to connect with participants and hear their own thoughts instead of a stricter one-time formal assessment

Final Advice on ‘Formal Assessment’ vs ‘Informal Assessment’

Learning words from different parts of speech allows us to piece terms together to make our writing as clear as possible. When we know a root word, we can modify it in many ways to expand our vocabulary and better understand categories of words. 

Need a recap? Here’s a quick review of what we covered:

  • ‘Formal Assessment’ is a term that refers to the systematic and data-driven evaluation of someone or something.
  • Meanwhile, ‘Informal Assessment’ refers to an intuitive evaluation method that does not require a metric or rubric. 

Want to keep learning how to clarify your writing? Check out other confusing word articles that show you how to use adjectives to make your work more descriptive and more precise. And remember that a self-assessment of your own work is just as important as a “good grade.”

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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