Portfolio assessment

Within education, a portfolio means a collection of materials, documents and/or files with which the student can show their (development in) competence. With a portfolio assessment, the appraisal of a student’s competence is done by means of that portfolio.

When a portfolio assessment is combined with a competency-based interview (CBI), the student gets the chance to clarify their contents and the choices they made, which the assessor can take into account during the appraisal.

What can be assessed?

The portfolio assessment is suitable for both appraising skills as well as complete competences. It is therefore about the combination of knowledge, skills and attitude. Are the student’s skills and/or competences of a sufficient level to carry out certain professional tasks?

Which levels can you assess?

Bloom’s Taxonomy does not apply to the portfolio assessment, because it is about skills and/or competences and not just about cognitive levels. To inquire about the underlying knowledge of the portfolio, the portfolio assessment is often combined with a competency-based interview (CBI).

Within Miller’s Pyramid, the portfolio assessment is suitable for appraisal on the level of Shows and Does. This makes it a good instrument for appraising a student’s behaviour in the workplace.

Prerequisites for this assessment method

  • The portfolio assessment is mostly suitable for individual students or small groups who have worked together.
  • Students often find it difficult to compile their portfolio in a good manner. A basic structure and instructions beforehand can be helpful, also to prevent a low appraisal of students who are less driven in compiling a portfolio.
  • Appraising portfolios requires a lot of time from the assessor, so that time must be made available.

Points of attention while taking the exam

A portfolio can be more or less prestructured when it comes to the type and number of contents that are being asked. The advantage of lots of prestructuring is that it gives the student a foothold when compiling the portfolio. It also increases the comparability of the submitted portfolios, which makes the task of appraising a bit easier and more orderly. The downside of lots of prestructuring is that it gives the student less room to shape their portfolio to their own liking. When choosing the degree of prestructuring, keep in mind how much experience students already have with compiling portfolios.

Give a clear instruction beforehand on how to compile a portfolio. Obviously it needs to be clear what the portfolio is meant to prove, so what it is appraised on in terms of content. Also pay attention to:

  • The expected structure and layout of the portfolio;
  • The substantive criteria;
  • The requirement that the student clearly shows the connection between proof and skill/competence, so: why the proof is added.
  • To prevent too large and cluttered portfolios: set basic requirements on shape, size, etc. to be able to submit. Not admissible? Back to the student before the substantive appraisal takes place.

Proof in the portfolio needs to be relevant, authentic, valid, recent, sufficient and of the right level. The combination of concrete evidence and a reasoning for using that specific evidence should be enough information for assessors to make a decision on whether or not to acknowledge competences.


In general, it is recommended that the assessment is administered by two examiners who are preferably not involved with the students. This is to strive for objectivity.

Calibration sessions are recommended to align the desired performance level. See also ‘Evaluating an assessment method’.

With a portfolio assessment, appraisal takes place based on an appraisal model with assessment criteria. A content specialist administers the assessment and appraises it.

The main risk during the appraisal is that you lose a lot of time to portfolios that are too large and badly structured. It helps to work in three steps:

  • Look whether the portfolio qualifies for the set requirements on things such as size, shape, appeal and structure. Only if that is the case, the portfolio will be appraised.
  • Appraise the quality of the proof. Is the proof sufficiently varied, relevant, recent, authentic (so a student’s own work), etc.? If not, ask for additional information (depends on your procedure).
  • Appraise the quality within the proof. Does the student show the required level?

An end result in the form of grades is possible, but it is advised to use a more general judgement such as ‘insufficient, sufficient, good’. Ultimately, it is about appraising whether or not the student is sufficiently competent to carry out an action or a task.

Feedback to the student

What feedback do you give?

In addition to the end result in the form of a grade or a more general judgement, it is desirable to give feedback on the portfolio as a whole and/or per assessment criterion. It is common to at least give an explanation for the parts for which the score was low or insufficient. For an optimal learning experience, it is recommended to also explicitly name the things that were positive.

How do you give feedback?

The feedback takes place based on a filled-in assessment form. For a student it is helpful, especially if adjustment is needed, to refer to examples in their portfolio when explaining the assessment criteria.

It can also be enlightening to also give oral feedback, for example when the portfolio is being combined with a competency-based interview (CBI).

Evaluating an assessment method

What do you evaluate?

Points of attention for adjusting the assessment are:

  • Are the assessment criteria well applicable? Do they provide guidance?
  • Does the assessment tool discriminate sufficiently between performances on different levels?
  • Do the results correspond with the expert-judgement of the assessors?
  • Are there no assessment criteria that overlap?

How do you evaluate?

When evaluating the assessment, you make use of calibration sessions. The process for this is:

  • Beforehand, both independently appraise the same portfolio (several is also possible).
  • Together, discuss the similarities and differences.
  • On the one hand, this discussion will lead to mutual agreements on how to apply the assessment criteria and, on the other hand, it will give input for adjusting/honing the assessment explanation, assessment criteria and/or other aspects of the assessment tool.

A calibration session is mostly meant to help align multiple assessors. Even when all appraisals are done by the same examiner, coordination with a peer is recommended (external validation).

Questions or want to know more?

Do you want professional advice on developing or analysing your assessment? Please contact:

  • Radboud University: the TIP of your faculty
  • Radboudumc: Assessment service via toetsservice [at] radboudumc.nl (toetsservice[at]radboudumc[dot]nl)