Formative vs Summative Assessment

Two Types of Assessment

Formative Assessment

Designed to provide practice.

  1. Done early and often. Frequent quizzing is good for students.
  2. Low stakes. Minimal or no credit toward grade.
  3. Diagnostic tool for student and faculty.
  4. Encourages retrieval and growth mindset.


  1. Minute reflection
  2. Poll/Survey
  3. Quiz
  4. Small group discussion/brainstorming

Some Tips

  • Use adaptive release feature in LMS to guide students.
  • Allow multiple submissions to encourage growth.
  • Provide instant feedback.
  • Offer learning resources for review.
  • Create an “unsure” option on multiple choice quizzes.

For best results:

  • Explain the purpose of the assessment to the students.
  • Review the results quickly.
  • Discuss the results with your students.
  • Take action.

Summative Assessment

Measures student achievement of course learning outcomes.

  1. Comes at the end of the learning experience.
  2. Medium to high stakes - informs course grades.
  3. Compares to a target or benchmark - can be used in program, college, university assessment.


  1. Exams
  2. Papers
  3. Presentations
  4. Projects

Purpose of Summative Assessment

To give students the opportunity to demonstrate key knowledge, application, connections, and deeper learning.

Ask Yourself

Why am I giving this assessment?

Should it be formative or summative?

Which course, program, department, college or university outcome does it meet?

What format is best for the content?

How will I provide effective feedback?

Some Tips

  1. Use rubrics.
  2. Allow time for retrieval practice throughout the course.
  3. Encourage digital fluency, but remember technology is a tool not an outcome.
  4. Consider different ways students can demonstrate knowledge - what will they be required to do in the field? Why not assess the real world skills?
  5. Give cumulative exams - retrieval practice is good for students.
  6. Use test wrappers for metacognition.
  7. Be transparent. Provide clear instructions.


  • Consider pretests.
  • Use a variety of assessment strategies.
  • Frequent quizzing increases learning.
  • Remember we want to test students' knowledge of a topic, not their test-taking skills.
  • Be careful of bias.