Critiquing the rationales for using comparative judgement: a call for clarity

By Kate Tremain Kelly, Mary Richardson, Talia Isaacs


Comparative judgment is gaining popularity as an assessment tool, including for high-stakes testing purposes, despite relatively little research on the use of the technique. Advocates claim two main rationales for its use: that comparative judgment is valid because humans are better at comparative than absolute judgment, and because it distils the aggregate view of expert judges.

We explore these contentions. We argue that the psychological underpinnings used to justify the method are superficially treated in the literature. We conceptualise and critique the notion that comparative judgment is ‘intrinsically valid’ due to its use of expert judges. We conclude that the rationales as presented by the comparative judgment literature are incomplete and inconsistent.

We recommend that future work should clarify its position regarding the psychological underpinnings of comparative judgment, and if necessary present a more compelling case; for example, by integrating the comparative judgment literature with evidence from other fields.


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