REPORT: Competency-Based Assessments


Prepared for BCCAT by J. DeDominicis & B. Zabolotney

Published July 20, 2020


This project sought to understand how post-secondary institutions in BC and elsewhere are working with competency-based credentials and assessments in their admission processes. For the purposes of this project, competency-based assessment was defined as a framework to collect evidence of competence, in order to evaluate applicants holistically, i.e., not relying solely on required subject-area grades or demonstration of learning through other academic benchmarks or criteria. The research revealed implications and opportunities for BC post-secondary institutions which can inform next and best admissions practices and policies.

This project adopted a primarily qualitative design, including interviews and surveys with Registrars, Deans and Directors of Admissions, literature review, appreciative inquiry, participatory research methods, and reflective practices. Over 80% of survey respondents indicated that competency-based evaluation criteria were being used at their institution, in addition to academic requirements, for admission to undergraduate, diploma, and/or certificate programs. Respondents mentioned types of competency-based materials required for applications, in addition to academic transcripts, such as letters of recommendation, written personal profiles, essays, or questionnaires, followed by interviews, portfolios and other materials.

Interview findings pointed to an inconsistency in the use of the term “competency”. Post-secondary institutions used “non-cognitive”, “competency-based”, “broad-based”, and “holistic” to describe their practices of evaluating students on the basis of criteria beyond their academic transcripts. Some interview participants indicated that programs sought to implement competency-based assessment criteria as a means to diversify the incoming cohort. Representatives of institutions that managed in-house competency assessments reported that their processes were resource-heavy and difficult to scale up.

A number of exemplary admissions practices surfaced during our interviews, and the study discusses structural and systemic attributes which support such practices.