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What Is Competency-Based Assessment in Education?

Through relevant assessment, competency-based education can help you master real-world skills while learning at your own pace.

If you’re like many other working professionals, you may find that online education is the ideal way to advance in your career. Through competency-based education, you can earn an online degree based on your mastery of specific competencies rather than on the completion of traditional courses held in set time frames.

Competency-based degree programs help you gain more than an online college or graduate degree. They help you acquire the skills you need for success in the modern world—at your own pace.

What Is Competency-Based Assessment in Education?

What is competency?

The National Center for Education Statistics defines competency as “a combination of skills, abilities, and knowledge needed to perform a specific task.”1 Competency-based education is designed around helping you master the core competencies of your chosen field of study.

You can acquire competencies through the resources provided by faculty members, or you can use knowledge you’ve gained from work and life experience. As Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, noted in The New York Times, “Competency is a student-centered, learning-outcome-based model. Where you get the education is secondary to what you know and are able to do.”2

How do universities know if competency-based learning is working?

Universities use competency-based assessment to help ensure you’re mastering the lessons and skills required in your competency-based degree program. Once you prove to your instructor that you can fully apply the principles of a specific competency, you receive credit for completing that lesson.

Universities can assess competency in a variety of ways. For base-level competencies, they might administer an exam. However, for more complex expertise, you may need to turn in an assignment that can only be completed successfully if you have truly mastered that competency.

How do you earn a competency-based degree?

You earn your degree once you’ve proven your mastery of every competency within your specific program. Because most competency-based degrees are offered through an online education program, you can often work at your own pace and complete as many competencies as you want—taking into account any required minimums—during any given term.

Through competency-based education and assessment, you can attain more than a degree. You can develop competencies that apply directly to your chosen field of work, making you a more effective professional.

Explore competency-based learning through Tempo Learning™ by Walden University, an accredited university offering online programs, and earn your degree at your own pace in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

1National Center for Education Statistics. “Defining and Assessing Learning: Competency-Based Initiatives,” on the Internet at
2The New York Times. “Are You Competent? Prove It.” On the Internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,