Are students ready for the next unit?  What knowledge do they already have about this topic?  Teachers who are curious about how much their class knows about a future topic can give diagnostic assessments before diving in.

What are Diagnostic Assessments?

Diagnostic assessments are pretests.  They usually serve as a barometer for how much pre-loaded information a student has about a topic. The word diagnosis is defined as an analysis of the nature or condition of a situation, which is exactly how teachers tend to use them.

Diagnostic tests help to tell the teacher (and the student) how much they know and don’t know about an upcoming topic. This helps to inform the teacher’s lesson planning, learning objectives, and identify areas that may need more or less time spent on.

Components of a Diagnostic Assessment

  • Happen at the beginning of a unit, lesson, quarter, or period of time.
  • Goal of understanding student’s current position to inform effective instruction
  • Identify strengths and areas of improvement for the student
  • Low-stakes assessments (Usually do not count as a grade)

Difference Between Diagnostic and Formative Assessments

Though both diagnostic assessments and formative assessments aim to inform teachers to instruct more effectively, they emphasize different aspects.  Formative assessments are taken during a unit to assess how students are learning the material that the teacher has been teaching (click here to learn more).  Diagnostic assessments come before this, analyzing what students have learned in the past, many times from different teachers or classes.  Both are very helpful for the teacher, and the results are used to identify areas that need more attention in future instruction.

Diagnostic Assessments Examples

At the beginning of a unit on Ancient Greece, a teacher may give a pre-test to determine if the class knows the basic geography, history or culture.  The class’ responses will determine where the teacher begins and how much time is dedicated to certain topics.  The teacher may learn from this diagnostic assessment that many students already have knowledge on cultural aspects of Greece, but know little about its history. From this, they may adjust the lesson plan to spend a bit more time on the history and origins of Ancient Greece and slightly less on culture.

Keep In Mind  

Another valuable use of a diagnostic pre-test is to give the students an idea of what they will have learned by end of the learning period.  When combined with a post test, their score on a pre-test will show students just how much knowledge they have gained.  This can be a powerful practice for building esteem in students.   In fact, some teachers even use the same pre-test and post-test to make this difference more evident. This strategy provides great data on how students have progressed is a sure-tell way to measure and analyze growth over the year.

The grading scale for a diagnostic assessment is usually not based on the number of correct answers and holds little weight for a student’s final grade. You might consider this type of test to be a low-stakes assessment for students.

Diagnostic Assessment Tools 

Teachers who use Edulastic, develop diagnostic assessments in a number of creative ways including introductory activities as well as classic multiple-choice or tech-enhanced “quizzes”. The automated grading feature of Edulastic makes it easy to instantly know how much information the class as a whole already knows.


Diagnostic Assessments happen at the start to gauge knowledge.
Diagnostic assessments happen at the start to gauge pre-knowledge.

Access Free Diagnostic Assessments

Start off the year strong and know where student are at when they begin the school year. Access FREE grade level SmartStart diagnostic assessments for grades 3-12 ELA and Math. Click here to learn more or use the button below to log in and explore these diagnostic assessments and more in the Edulastic Test Library.

Diagnostic Assessment and Screeners. Look for SmartStart on Edulastic.

Dig Deeper into Different Types of Assessment:

Get to know different types of assessments and how they might be useful in the classroom.

Check out this article on getting more with digital diagnostic assessments, or this article on using pretests to drive home student learning!

Formative Assessment

Formative assessments are used in the middle of a lesson or year to determine how students are progressing.

Benchmark Assessment

Benchmark assessments are used to measure the academic progress of large groups of students.

Interim Assessment

Interim assessments are given across an entire school or district in order to compare results of groups of students.

Summative Assessment

In a summative assessment, success is measured at the end of a checkpoint.

Ready to put an assessment into practice? You can sign up for a free Edulastic account and create or discover your own online assessment, all in one place!