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What Makes Summative Assessment a Powerful Tool for Teachers

Report card after summative assessment

Teaching is not just an intellectual process anymore. Today, it is also a logical process. Teachers need to assess individual students’ performance with tools like a summative assessment to provide customized learning environments in the classrooms. 

Therefore, modern teachers use formative and summative assessments to improve learning standards. Both assessments help educators achieve high learning goals in the classrooms. 

But which assessment method is better in today’s education system?

This blog post will help teachers and learners understand summative assessments. We will also share the differences between formative and summative assessments . 

What is Summative Assessment? 

What is summative assessment infographic by Chapman King

Summative assessment refers to an evaluation conducted at the end of a course or academic year. It depends on the grading and scoring system. Some of the common summative assessments are:

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  • Mid-term tests
  • Reports 
  • Detailed papers
  • End-of-class tests, etc. 

The main objective of summative assessment is to evaluate the overall progress. This assessment shows how much a student has learned through a course, subject, or project in a particular timeline. 

These assessments have high value as they take place under a controlled environment. You can use summative assessments to evaluate the comprehensive performance of the classroom to gain more insight. In a way, summative assessments can help you in two ways:

  • Evaluate what your students have learned during the course
  • Understand how prepared your students are for the next academic year 

Summative Assessment Examples

Notes scattered on a table

1. In-depth reports

A typical SA example is asking students to pick a topic and write down a full report. It helps students research in-depth and use their creativity to write a report. You can evaluate passion, intelligence, and overall student performance through reports. 

2. Projects 

You can give group or individual projects to your students. This SA will show what your students have learned throughout the year and how they can work together.  

3. Personal evaluation papers

This summative assessment example is helpful for financial, business, or other technical subjects. In this, you can understand the in-depth opinions of students. These papers allow students to evaluate topics through different perspectives and build an unbiased view.  

Why Is Summative Assessment Important?

A kid giving an exam an important summative assessment

Today, many scholars are against summative assessments. They think it lacks real-time performance evaluation benefits like formative assessments. 

However, we will suggest to teachers that both assessments are equally important to sustain in the modern education system. If formative assessments help monitor progress in real-time , then summative assessments set benchmarks to evaluate performance. 

Summative assessments help to improve curriculums. When you note the gap between students’ knowledge and learning targets, this will indicate you want to make some changes in your curriculum. You can better plan the curriculum with summative assessments to conduct formative assessments. 

Summative Assessment Benefits 

A student throwing notes in the air

Summative assessments can benefit both teachers and students in many ways, such as:

1. Motivates to study

For many students, periodic evaluation is the best motivation to study. Many students can only perform under pressure. So, summative assessment is the perfect motivation for some students to study hard. 

2. Implements learning 

Summative assessments give students a chance to implement their learning in a real problem. For example, memorizing the periodic table is one thing. But using the periodic table data in a chemical equation is different.  

Thus, summative assessments like multiple-choice tests give students a chance to test their learning. 

3. Finds learning gaps 

Summative assessment provides an overview of your class’s performance. This will help you evaluate the weaknesses and strengths of your students. 

For example, you have taken a multiplication and factorization test in your class. Most students score high in multiplication tests, and only 50% score higher in factorization. This tells you that you need to work on teaching factorization better for your class. 

4. Identifies teaching gaps 

Summative assessment is helpful to evaluate learning gaps and teaching gaps. It works as a wake-up call when you grade your student’s tests, and the test results are not as per your expectations.

This means your current teaching methods are not up to the mark. You need to adopt a new teaching method or strategy in your classroom, like:

  • Use visual learning components
  • Provide a stimulating learning environment 
  • Use different summative assessment methods, etc. 

5. Provides insight 

Summative assessments provide comprehensive insights to teachers. It shows what worked and what didn’t work in the academic year. Using this information, teachers can tweak their curriculum to raise learning standards for the following year. 

6. Controls learning environment 

Summative assessment scores provide standards to evaluate at local, national, and global levels. Depending upon the standard scores, the government can provide funding to the schools. 

Summative Assessment Limitations 

Two kids studying together

1. Reduces creativity 

As strict criteria are set for summative assessment, it reduces creative involvement. Students have little room to showcase their creativity when following a standard assessment method. 

2. Reflects on teaching ability 

When teachers get only one chance to evaluate students’ performance, this reduces their teaching standards. They can’t make real-time changes in their teaching methods. 

3. Can be biased 

Summative assessments can go biased. If teachers want, they can favor some students while grading their tests. The success of summative assessments depends upon the integrity and honesty of the teacher. 

Creative Ways to Use Summative Assessment in Your Classroom

Kids making crafts

Indeed, summative assessment has limitations that can impact teaching and learning standards. But if you twist up a standard summative assessment method using your creativity, you can gain immense value from SA. Here are a few creative ways to use summative assessments:

1. Short films 

Instead of MCQs or essays, you can ask your students to record their reports on a camera. This way, students can use their creativity to make a unique report. For example, they can use visual charts, stories, or interviews to make their points compelling. 

2. Podcasts 

You can give a group or individual project to students to create podcasts. It is an interactive way to demonstrate learning and creative skills. 

3. Infographics

Creating visual infographics for the final project allows students to show creativity. Students can use attractive visuals to cover different aspects of a topic like definition, statistics, etc. 

4. Venn diagrams

Venn diagrams are an old yet effective way to visualize learning. This comparison technique helps compare different histories, social studies, and other concepts. 

5. Living museum

You can ask students to create a small popup museum in the classrooms. This will help you teach one concept to the entire class in an exciting manner. For teaching history or science concepts, this summative assessment mode is perfect. 

Differences between Summative Assessment & Formative Assessment

Are you confused about using summative or formative assessment in your class? Well, let’s understand what is difference between summative and formative assessment to get a better idea:

A table of differences between formative summative assessment

1. Time for evaluation 

Teachers use formative assessments multiple times during a lesson or chapter to evaluate a student’s performance. 

The summative assessment comes after completing a project to evaluate the overall understanding of a student. 

2. Learning level 

Formative assessment means constant monitoring of a student’s performance during a lesson. This allows teachers to evaluate the learning level of a student at different stages. Thus, they make instant decisions to improve the learning standards further. 

In contrast, the summative assessment provides a one-time wholesome overview of the student’s performance. This is useful to know the complete learning level of your class. 

3. Scale 

The summative assessment covers a larger area than the formative assessment. For example, if you teach a math chapter and take a test, it is a formative assessment. But when you take a test of 5-6 chapters together, that’s a summative assessment. 

4. Evaluation style 

Formative assessment is helpful to monitor the progress of individual students. It helps teachers to catch problems using the right approach. 

Summative assessment is a grading system in which overall performance is graded. It helps to evaluate the understanding of a student during a specific period. 

5. Objective

Formative assessment is designed to promote student-centered learning. When teachers evaluate individual students’ performance, they can use personalized teaching methods based on a student’s weaknesses and strengths. 

On the flip side, summative assessment is targeted to provide absolute value. It emphasizes a student’s grade at the end of the academic year. 

Which Is Better –  Formative or Summative Assessment?

Both formative and summative assessments are essential. Teachers need to conduct both assessments in classrooms to improve learning levels. 

Using formative assessments , teachers can keep constant tabs on students’ progress and make instant decisions to improve their performance. At the same time, teachers should evaluate the complete performance of students to ensure that they understand the concepts before their next academic year.

So, it would help if you created a balance between formative and summative assessment strategies to drive maximum results from your students. 

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SplashLearn’s tool for teachers has elements that cater to both summative and formative assessments. With practice sessions and assignments that can be used after completion of every topic, students will solve their doubts time after time. With end-of-the-year assessments, you can ensure that your students are well prepared for the next academic year! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are examples of formative and summative assessments .

Formative assessment examples are – homework assignments, quizzes, polls, surveys, entry slips, exit slips, etc. Summative assessment examples are – final projects, reports, presentations, essays, etc.  

How do you make a summative assessment? 

  • Focus on a child’s strengths and make them stand out. 
  • Draw parents’ attention towards their children’s knowledge level. 
  • Summative assessment should be free from bias. 
  • Write in a clean and easy-to-understand manner. 

What makes a good summative assessment? 

A good summative assessment reflects a wide range of skills of a student. Authenticity and reliability are the two traits of an excellent summative assessment that helps to improve the overall learning level in a classroom. 

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Benefits of Using Summative and Formative Assessments in ESL Classrooms

  • Evaluating and Testing
  • May 3, 2022

The terms summative and formative assessments may be words typically associated with traditional schooling. However, they don’t need to stay in traditional subject classrooms. Summative and formative assessments can be used to facilitate English language acquisition. They offer benefits to both English language students and teachers toward accomplishing language goals. We’ll explain how in today’s blog.

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Summative Assessments

Summative assessments are those typical end-of-course, end-of-semester, end-of-term tests we encounter in elementary and high school. These tests tell teachers, administrators, educational authorities, and parents whether learners achieved educational objectives during the term or course of study.

Summative assessments typically used at the end of a course of instruction to determine if the goals of a curriculum were achieved. They can be anything from the end of term assessments, research papers, standardized tests, and the like. As such, they measure longer periods of time and cover multiple learning objectives.

So, how can we, as English teachers use summative assessments to our advantage in ESL classrooms? One way is using them to determine how well learners acquired the language within a course. If, for example, the goal of a six-week English language program is for learners to be able to use English in six everyday activities (e.g., shopping at the mall, going to the dentist, flight travel, going to the doctor, eating out, and taking public transportation), they can be used to measure if learners have met this course goal.

Along those lines, summative assessments can also be used to measure learning for each element of the same course. The bottom line is, summative assessments are formal tests used to understand and quantify learner achievement of objectives. Summative assessments provide those grades and or percentages we see after student names. And, they’re often cause for stress in these same students. But it doesn’t have to be that way if we’re aware of and can convey the benefits.

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Benefits for Students

1) Summative assessments offer an opportunity to refresh students’ memories of what they previously learned.

2) Summative assessments reinforce the overall learning objectives of the course.

3) Summative assessments provide a snapshot for class members to see if they know the collective language points or not.

4) Summative assessments can tell learners if they should proceed to the next level. By helping learners understand these points, we may be able to reduce their apprehension. Then, class members may be more apt to look forward to these times. As they prepare, remind learners of areas they may have forgotten or that need a little more focus.

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Benefits for English Teachers

1) Teachers and academic managers can use the results of summative assessments to guide their decisions for future curriculum development.

2) Summative assessments can help indicate overall progress and show if moving forward is practical.

3) Use summative assessments to demonstrate if learning has been achieved quantitatively. Use those measurable numbers to provide facts and figures to anyone who may want to inquire as to the effectiveness of a course of instruction.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments, on the other hand, are tools that we can use to check how well students learned the material. They can be in the form of quizzes or assignments, games, group activities, projects, reports, presentations, progress checks, simple question and answer sessions, and so on. They help teachers measure in micro terms whether individual lessons, modules, goals, or short-term objectives have been met.

As English language teachers, we can use formative assessments like surgical instruments in language learning. They help us keep learners on the path toward language acquisition goals of the curriculum. We can also use results from formative assessments to make adjustments. Finally, we can use formative assessments to enhance language acquisition by helping learners check individual progress within individual lessons.

1) Use formative assessments with regularity (e.g., a quiz every Friday). This way you can use them to provide an element of stability for learners.

2) Since formative assessments can take many forms, they can also break up the monotony of traditional classroom environments where the teach-test-teach system prevails.

3) Formative assessments do not require traditional numbered or lettered grades. They can simply be pass or fail, or even labeled with colors, stars, or other indicators. This takes some of the stress from learners and allows them to simply focus on language acquisition instead of grades.

4) Formative assessments reinforce language acquisition.

1) We can use formative assessments to adjust our teaching methods or strategies.

2) Formative assessments can help us recognize weak areas. Since classrooms are groups, not all learners are at the same place. And, a private class is only one of many. So, we cannot put every learner into a one-size-fits-all approach. Formative assessments help identify those individual weak areas.

3) Formative assessments can help us identify problem areas more immediately than summative assessments — before it’s too late to adjust.

4) Formative assessments can take any form. As such, they allow a great amount of flexibility for you, the teacher.

5) Formative tests help paint pictures of learning in a course of instruction. This allows you to make adjustments. And, they are different than summative tests which are more like taking photographs – it’s too late to change anything once the photo’s been taken.

6) Formative assessments help us see patterns in instruction that may need to be adjusted.

7) Formative assessments can help us decide whether to move forward or stay a little longer on a particular language point.

Read: Assessment and Evaluation in the ESL Classroom

Parting Thoughts

Which one is better? Formative or Summative Assessments? As English teachers, we don’t always need to shy away from traditional classroom methods of assessment. We can put them to good use. English language learners could benefit more from strategically utilizing formative assessments. On the other hand, summative assessments are quite useful in determining if language acquisition has indeed taken place over the course of instruction. Read: What Is the Difference Between Formative and Summative Assessment ?

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Importance of Summative Assessment and the Types of Assessment in Higher Education

All teachers, administrators, exam supervisors, and lecturers are familiar with the term summative assessment. From weekly quizzes to annual examinations, summative assessments are the most effective ways to examine a student’s progress.

Table of Contents:

What is summative assessment in education, importance of summative assessment, essential features of summative assessment.

  • Examples and Types of Summative Assessment in Higher Education
  • Wrapping up

Summative assessments not only establish the developmental patterns of students but also provide actionable insights to educators. However, they require a significant investment of time from students and educationists.

Having proper knowledge about the types of assessment in higher education can go a long way in conducting the assessments in an improved and efficient manner. Let’s discuss summative assessments in detail to understand how you can analyze your student’s abilities and maximize their inner potential.

A summative assessment is usually conducted at the end of a study course or training program to evaluate the learner’s acquired proficiency and knowledge against a pre-determined benchmark or standard. Comprising grading rubrics and clear instructions to assess how much the student has learned and retained, the stakes for this method have a high point value.

Under this type of assessment, it is challenging for the instructor to provide personalized feedback on students’ performance. However, the results are significant enough to analyze students’ strengths and weaknesses. Nowadays, teachers can access several online summative evaluation tools to get better results and make better strategic learning decisions.

Read Also: Why Higher Education Institutions Need an Education Services Company

Standard-driven instructions play a crucial role in today’s education system. Summative assessments provide an important benchmark to track the progress of institutions and students, thereby aiding the evaluation of the country’s educational program as a whole.

Such types of assessment in higher education contribute significantly towards upgrading the overall curriculum planning . Whenever the evaluation data indicates a gap between student understanding and learning targets, institutions may resort to new learning criteria and enhanced curriculum planning to analyze and maximize their educational attainment levels and efficacy.

Essential Features of Summative Assessment

1. Practicality and Ethical

The summative evaluation processes are practical, flexible, and calculable. They are well-aligned, which makes it simple for the instructor to incorporate them into a training program. Summative assessment promotes clear learning and teaching boundaries. The instructor is required to receive students’ consent before implementing this method.

2. Reliability

Being a standardized method of knowledge-based assessments, summative evaluation provides reliable and exact results. With the help of a well-defined process, it is easier to reveal a student’s capability in a field. It also provides consistent and accurate outcomes when used in relevant contexts.   

Students are encouraged to exhibit their knowledge and skills in several ways under the summative evaluation method. You need to keep in mind that this method is used for an identified purpose, and it is limited to the material shared during the training or course.  

4. Validity

Always remember that summative assessment examines the students’ skills in a particular subject matter in line with the objectives and learning goals of the training or course. For instance, an engineering course includes practical tests and experiments to evaluate students’ knowledge of core topics.

5. Quick Reports

As the main idea behind summative assessment is to check students’ progress, there is always a summarized report of results after the examination ends. This helps the instructors to compare students’ past and present performances.

Examples and 5 Types of Summative Assessment in Higher Education

1. standardized admission tests.

Higher education institutions conduct these tests for students to qualify them for a specific program or course. Based on pre-determined cut-off marks and the student’s performance on the test, they are granted admission to the desired program.

For example, TOEFL and IELTS are standardized English proficiency tests that determine a student’s language skill levels. Usually, these types of assessments in higher education are conducted on a large scale, and they utilize explicit scoring criteria for allotting grades.

2. End-of-Term Exams

End-Of-Term examinations are one of the most common methods of assessment and evaluation in higher education. These exams have a simple structure – the instructor formulates relevant questions, and the students submit their answers within a specific interval.

They not only help teachers assess students’ subject matter knowledge but also provide quantitative results, allowing teachers to grade students and determine their success rate. What’s more, teachers can avoid the heavy workload attached to paper assessments by leveraging online test platforms to conduct the assessments.

3. Oral Tests

If you want to get spontaneous and real-time responses from students after a specific course or program, then the oral summative test is an ideal option. You can use unstructured, semi-structured, or structured interview approaches to assess students’ progress.

Many teachers conduct oral tests on various topics in classrooms to analyze students’ understanding of the subject matter. The type of questions asked during oral tests depends on the kind of interview method you embrace.

4. Formal Essays

What can be better than formal essays to determine students’ perspectives and thought processes? Promoting essay writing skills helps students explain their ideas and understanding of any topic.

It is a great way to evaluate their level of knowledge regarding a particular concept. Formal essays allow them to argue for or against a topic, narrate their learning experiences or explain their understanding of a subject matter in descriptive prose.

5. Group Projects and Practical Assignments

Another excellent way to evaluate students’ knowledge is to assign them tasks within small groups. For example, a group task can help you evaluate how students develop a framework and solve a particular problem after training them on conflict resolution and teamwork.

Assigning practical projects to students for specific subjects, with precise and clear guidelines, gives teachers a direct chance to assess students’ abilities and skills in real-time. This is one of the key advantages of summative assessment, as instructors can determine learners’ strengths and give them constructive feedback. 

Read Also: The Relationship Between Curriculum Development And Evaluation

Wrapping Up!

To sum it up, a comprehensive summative assessment offers valuable insights into where learners stand compared to their peers. Online assessment tools can open doors to a whole new world of adept performance and agile learning. They are a great way of transforming the learning and evaluation environment.

If you’re looking for higher education, eLearning, or training solutions, get in touch with HurixDigital today! Our team of experienced professionals can assess your digital content solution needs and guide you through the best path to success.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How does summative assessment benefit educators and students?

A. Summative assessment offers insights into learners’ progress, helps educators identify gaps in understanding, and provides quantitative results.

2. What are the benefits of using online summative evaluation tools?

A. Online tools provide educators with better results and strategic learning decisions, making it convenient to assess and analyze students’ progress.

3. Can instructors provide personalized feedback in summative assessments?

A. While personalized feedback is challenging due to the nature of summative assessments, the results still offer insights into students’ strengths and weaknesses.

4. What distinguishes summative assessment from other types of assessment?

A. Summative assessment is typically conducted at the end of a learning period to evaluate overall proficiency, whereas formative assessment is ongoing and focuses on guiding learning during the process.

5. How do oral tests contribute to summative assessment?

A. Oral tests offer real-time responses, allowing teachers to assess students’ progress and understanding after a course.

summative assessment benefits for teachers

Snehnath Neendoor

Designation: Senior Vice President - Business Development Over 25 years of experience in the edtech and workforce learning industry with strong skills in Business Development, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Strategy.

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Summative Assessment And Student Success: A Comprehensive Review

Zoe benjamin.

Are you looking to design summative assessments that accurately measure your students’ learning progress? It may seem like creating a test is a straightforward task – just jot down some questions and select the answers. But if you aspire to create assessments that genuinely reflect your learners’ abilities and enhance their academic achievements, you need to adopt a more considerate approach. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the benefits and limitations of summative assessments on student achievement and provide recommendations for teachers to improve the effectiveness of summative assessments for their learners.

What is summative assessment?

Examples of summative assessment, formative vs summative assessments, tracking student progress, accountability, motivating students , preparation for external exams, standardisation , how can summative assessment impact student achievement, provides a limited snapshot of student achievement, closed-book exams may not accurately reflect students’ ability or potential, comparing students based on summative grades might be unfair, summative assessments emphasise memorization, 1. design a summative assessment based on its purpose, 2. offer clear instructions throughout the assessment, 3. ensure consistency in summative assessments from year to year, 4. prepare students in advance.

Summative assessment is an evaluation of students’ current understanding and achievement. It allows teachers to track learners’ progress over a period of time. 

The findings of these assessments can be utilised to make informed decisions about how to support each student in succeeding and determine whether they have achieved the required learning objectives. 

Summative assessments can take many forms, including tests, exams, projects, or essays, and are often scored to provide a quantifiable measure of students’ performance.

Some examples include:

  • Benchmark tests given at the start of the year or a unit of work with the intention of comparing the results with future assessment data.
  • Online assessments designed to measure transferable skills and academic aptitude to make predictions and targets for future attainment.
  • Portfolios of work , for subjects such as Art or Photography.
  • A final project following a period of group work.
  • Midterm exams or classroom assessments at the end of a unit of study.
  • Performance assessments that showcase students’ development of new skills.
  • Key stage assessments that form part of a national curriculum.
  • Standardised tests that are sat by students of the same age throughout a country, such as GCSEs and SATs

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The difference between formative and summative assessment is their purpose, design, frequency, and outcomes. While summative assessment is an assessment of learning, formative assessment is an assessment for learning .

Read more: Formative assessment examples

Formative and summative assessments are the two types of assessment that are most prevalent in education literature. The table below shows their main characteristics:

Formative and Summative Assessment

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Benefits of summative assessment practices 

The benefits of summative assessment may not be as apparent as those of formative assessment, as they are often less immediate and direct than the advantages gained from ongoing assessment strategies that promote learning.

But summative assessments bring many benefits that enhance teaching and learning.

Summative assessments offer assessment data that is typically used to track student progress over time. This data indicates whether students are making the expected level of progress based on their age and abilities.

The results of summative assessments provide an objective measure of accountability for teachers and students. 

Teachers can use students’ end-of-year or external assessment results in their appraisal meetings to evaluate their teaching approaches. Additionally, students can be held accountable if their results indicate a decrease in effort or underperformance in one or more subjects.

Summative assessments provide high-stakes conditions for students to showcase their capabilities to themselves and others. These assessments motivate students to prepare and revise more thoroughly than they might for other types of evaluations. 

However, lower ability students and those with exam anxiety may be less motivated by summative assessments, which can lead to a decrease in their effort and motivation as the assessment date approaches.

GCSEs and A-Levels are external exams that act as summative assessments at the end of a course. High stakes classroom assessments, such as midterm exams, offer valuable exam practice for time management, meeting assessment objectives, and managing exam anxiety. 

Retrieving information from long-term memory during summative assessments strengthens memory for that information and related concepts, which can be beneficial for students during external exams.

Summative assessments can provide schools and education systems with objective data to create standardised scores for each learner. This enables individuals and small cohorts to be compared to other students and larger cohorts. 

Standardisation is often used to determine the grade boundaries in external exams, which are then used by universities to set their entry requirements. 

The manner in which summative assessment is carried out can have a considerable impact on the academic progress of students.

Summative assessment helps:

  • track student progress and identify underachievement, allowing for interventions to be put in place.
  • reveal issues with exam technique, which may not be identified through formative assessments.
  • hold students and teachers accountable and increase motivation to improve results.
  • prepare students for external exams, improving long-term memory retrieval and adjusting revision and exam strategies accordingly.

Read more: Retrieval practice activities Adaptive teaching

In all cases above, increased achievement is defined as achieving a higher result in a future summative assessment. 

This may not be a reliable or valid measure of achievement, but until education institutions move away from standardised testing and entry requirements that depend on the results of summative assessments, it is an important measure to consider.

Limitations of summative assessment

Summative assessments are widely used in education to measure student achievement, but they also have limitations every teacher should be aware of:

Summative assessment is limited in that it provides a snapshot of student achievement at one point in time and uses a limited range of assessment strategies.

The validity and appropriateness of summative assessments, particularly external exams, has been scrutinised in the UK after ‘teacher assessed grades’ were used to replace external exams during periods of lockdown.

There is uncertainty about whether closed-book exams that are taken at the end of GCSE and A-Level courses provide an accurate reflection of students’ ability or academic potential.

Students can be coached to perform well on summative assessments, which takes time away from deepening students’ understanding or studying a broader curriculum.

Critics of summative assessment argue that ‘open-book’ assessments would be more appropriate so that students can be tested on their ability to apply and fact-check the material they have access to.

Using summative grades to compare students to each other or to gain entry into a school, college, or university, seems unfair when final grades are so dependent on factors outside of students’ control.

Summative assessments often require students to memorise material, which is becoming an increasingly redundant skill given how readily information is available online.

Time spent memorising material ahead of a summative assessment could be better spent deepening students’ understanding or improving their ability to critically interact with new material.

Summative Assessment tips for teachers

As a teacher, designing and administering effective summative assessments can be challenging. Here are some tips to help you create successful summative assessments for your students.

Consider the purpose of the assessment and allow this to determine the most appropriate design for the summative assessment. 

If the purpose of the assessment is preparation for an external exam, mimic the format, length, and question style of the external exam paper.

If the purpose of the assessment is to track progress, include questions that relate to knowledge tested on a previous assessment and questions to gain benchmark data for a future assessment.

Ensure the instructions throughout the assessment clearly convey what is required from the student (e.g. show each step of your calculation).

Create a mark scheme or rubric before the assessment is set so that you are clear about what is required from each question and check that the exam instructions accurately explain this to the students. 

Use the same summative assessments each year so that each cohort of students can be compared to cohorts from previous years. This allows departments to evaluate their own performance and to make adjustments if a cohort’s performance differs significantly from previous years. 

Utilise the benefits of retrieval practice and spacing by including a mixture of recent and past topics on each summative assessment.

Prepare students for summative assessments and reduce exam anxiety by producing practice papers that match the summative assessment in terms of style and content. 

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Summative assessment is designed to produce a measure of achievement. It is important because it helps teachers to track their students’ progress and gives students an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge to external organisations such as employers or universities.

An assessment that has a clear purpose and allows comparisons to be made with the results or past or future assessments.

External exams like Year 6 SATs, GCSEs or A-Levels End of year or end of topic exams Benchmark or aptitude tests that measure transferable skills and academic potential

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Understanding the meaning and function of summative assessment helps clarify its role within education as a critical component of bridging teaching and learning. In this post, we take a closer look at summative assessment’s qualities with the end goal of ensuring that summative assessment supports learning and informs teaching. 

Assessment is a term that describes tests, quizzes, exams, and assignments that measure student learning. Each of these methodologies can provide students and teachers with insights. Educators receive data on what students have and have not learned and gain observations into teaching efficacy and exam design. Students, in turn, recognize any learning gaps they might have, and when they receive feedback, understand next steps to further learning. 

The most high-stakes type of assessment is called summative assessment. Summative assessment often comes at the endpoint of learning, whether at the end of a unit, course, or curriculum, serving largely as a pure evaluation of knowledge. 

It’s easy to consider summative assessments as a final chapter to learning, but summative assessments can also act as a milestone and inform next steps for both educators and students. By examining the definition of summative assessment as well as its capabilities, educators can embrace its strengths, bolster its shortcomings, and foster learning. 

Summative assessment definition

Summative assessment is a specific type of assessment that evaluates learning and offers little opportunity for providing student feedback because of its positioning at the end of a learning unit. They are usually high-stakes, contributing to a large portion of a student’s course grade (e.g., final exams) or an exam that has a high impact on a student’s educational outcome. (e.g., standardized exams or entrance exams). Summative assessments include heavily weighted midterm exams, final exams, licensure tests, and standardized exams like A levels in the UK, SATs in the United States, Matriculation Exams in Finland, National Boards in India, or the CSAT in South Korea.

In such a high-stakes context, failing or struggling on summative assessments can negate student effort in other areas of study. On the other hand, summative assessment can be an effective tool to evaluate student knowledge and in the realm of licensure and certification exams, determine qualification for beginning a career. 

Just for context: Formative assessment definition

While we aim to focus discussion on summative assessment, it’s important to describe another type of assessment to provide context; formative assessments not only evaluate learning but provide feedback to students and data to instructors. While formative assessments may or may not be given a grade, they most certainly further learning and occur throughout the course to support student learning needs, and often provide a safe space for failure . Formative assessments include assignments, tests, in-class activities, quizzes, and even midterm exams when they include feedback and opportunities for instructor intervention. 

Best practices in formative assessment include providing timely and actionable feedback to students before the next assessment ( Hattie & Timperley, 2007 ). 

Formative and summative assessment

While formative assessment is the measurement and support of learning as it takes place, summative assessments are evaluations of what a student has learned at the end of a given period (e.g., semester or training course). By assessing students at the end of a module, course, or curriculum, educators gain insight into how well their students have mastered the content and how effective their teaching methods were. 

Even though summative assessments are situated at a point where students will find it hard to action results, data from summative assessments can still be used to inform curriculum planning and teaching, as well as any future exam adjustments. 

That said, when possible, it’s important to balance formative and summative assessments within a term or curriculum. Fortifying summative assessments with prior formative assessments can support a student’s educational journey. Students who understand what they know and what they need to know in order to move forward are more likely to be prepared for final evaluation. Furthermore, preparing students for final evaluation with frequent opportunities to fail safely and receive feedback reduces stress, increases learning outcomes, and can mitigate academic misconduct . 

Can summative assessments have formative qualities?

While every type of assessment has its function to evaluate, every type of assessment, too, can be maximized for learning and teaching. Mid-course exams, for example, have the potential for both summative and formative qualities, serving to evaluate mastery (summative) and provide feedback to promote student learning (formative). 

Without feedback, a midterm exam is purely summative. And while a summative component to a mid-course exam is reasonable, there is a lot more potential to them. It is important to provide feedback on mid-course exams so that students understand what they do and do not know and have the tools to bridge learning gaps for the next assessment and ultimately their final exam. 

When assessments are provided with timely and actionable feedback, students have the information they need to facilitate their own learning; in this way, even high-stakes midterm exams can pivot towards formative learning opportunities for students. Additionally, summative assessments contain information critical for teacher and curriculum intervention as well as future exam design.

Providing students with feedback from summative assessments

While formative assessments hinge on providing students with immediate feedback to help with the learning process, summative assessments happen after the student learning occurs. However, this doesn’t mean that communicating students’ performance is any less important. 

For students to understand what content they have mastered and which topics might need additional study time, they need a detailed breakdown of their performance.

Categorizing summative assessment questions can give instructors the granular performance data they (and their students) need. By tagging exam items to course topics or learning objectives, faculty can provide the detailed feedback students need to be more focused in their study efforts.

Summative assessments are an important part of the assessment process and are incredibly valuable to both students and faculty. By ensuring high-stakes exams are secure, and providing students with performance feedback, educators can gain insight into how well students have learned the content and how well instructors have presented it.

When are summative assessments useful?

Summative assessments evaluate content mastery. Generally, they are end-of-course or end-of-year exams; however, these are not the only applicable uses of summative assessments. Evaluating student learning could also come at the end of a chapter or learning module with mid-course exams. 

Summative exams can also be multi-functional, as they, like all assessments, are rich with data. When item analysis and psychometrics accompany summative assessment, instruction is bolstered. When an assessment occurs at the end of a course or year or curriculum, data insights help educators make adjustments to teaching and curriculum so that future learning can be bolstered. When category-tagging is employed in tools like ExamSoft, educators can pinpoint student preparation for things like licensure exams. And conducting item analysis can inform effective exam design. 

When are summative assessments harmful?

Summative assessments are by nature, high-stakes, and very stressful. 

Who hasn’t woken from a nightmare in panic about missing or failing a final exam, even decades out from school? The reality that summative assessments can make or break academic success is deeply implanted in our psyche. 

While there is little disagreement among educators about the need for or utility of summative assessments, debates and disagreements tend to center on issues of fairness and effectiveness, especially when summative-assessment results are used for high-stakes purposes. 

Fair and inclusive assessments uphold accurate assessments. When exams are not fair nor inclusive, they become vulnerable to misconduct, resulting in missed learning opportunities. When exams do not cover what was taught, students may feel stressed and vulnerable. These missed opportunities can compound and widen learning gaps.

Assessments need to contain a variety of formats and question styles to measure different components of learning and include different learning styles. Summative assessments, when poorly designed, reward memorization rather than deep understanding of concepts. Encouraging competition between students, which can happen when grading on a curve, can also increase stress and decrease fairness. 

Additionally, when test-takers are not sure how they will be evaluated, summative assessments can be unfair and inaccurate. Providing rubrics to students and graders ensures clarity of expectations and ensuing measurement of learning. 

When summative assessments are stressful, do not accurately measure learning, aren’t preceded with learning opportunities beforehand, and/or don’t test what has been taught, they also become more vulnerable to academic misconduct and shortcut solutions like cheating, plagiarism, and AI Writing misuse. 

Keeping assessments secure

Assessments are a checkpoint for student learning and teaching efficacy; consequently, accurate student responses are critical to increasing learning outcomes. 

Most summative assessments are given with the understanding that the student’s score counts toward their final grade. As such, keeping these secure from academic dishonesty is paramount to providing a fair experience for all exam-takers. Though many educational institutions are moving to computer-based testing (CBT), taking exams on laptops or other devices brings a new list of potential security issues, such as access to the internet or other applications during an exam. An effective way to ensure exam integrity is testing software that does not allow use of the internet during an exam and prevents students from accessing other applications on their device.

Preventing academic dishonesty by blocking exam-takers’ information sources isn’t the only point to consider; ensuring students don’t share assessment items is also a concern. Once a test question is compromised, it’s no longer a valid measurement of student learning. Thus, keeping questions secure is vital.

Assessment security is a focus of Professor Phillip Dawson, an authority on assessment security from Deakin University in Australia, who defines assessment security as: “Measures taken to harden assessment against attempts to cheat. This includes approaches to detect and evidence attempts to cheat, as well as measures to make cheating more difficult.” 

Dawson suggests a multilayered approach to assessment design, with seven standards for assessment security that institutions ought to consider:

  • Coverage across a program - how much of a degree should be secured?
  • Authentication - how do we ensure the student is who they say they are?
  • Control of circumstances - how can we be sure the task was done in the intended circumstances?
  • Difficulty to cheat metrics - we need to know how hard it may be to cheat a task.
  • Detection accuracy metrics - we need to know if our detection methods work.
  • Proof metrics - we need to be able to prove cases of cheating.
  • Prevalence metrics - we need to know approximate rates of undetected, detected, and proven cheating ( Dawson, 2021 ).

 According to Professor Roseanna Bourke, Director of Educational Psychology programme and Institute of Education at Massey University, there is a link between student cheating and student understanding and investment in the assigned tasks; when students don’t understand questions and lack confidence, learning itself becomes the barrier ( Bourke, Integrity Matters, n.d. ). 

Providing support to students throughout a course or curriculum mitigates academic dishonesty in summative assessments. When students feel seen and supported with formative feedback in their educational journey, they are less likely to cheat. Additionally, rubrics can make clear the purpose of each question. 

How can summative assessments benefit student learning?

As stated, summative assessment is useful when the data exchange is maximized and accurate. Not only should it provide information about content mastery to instructors, it can also act as a reservoir of statistics about learning trends, item analysis, and exam effectiveness. Finally, and when possible, summative exams can take on formative qualities when feedback is provided. All of these data points directly benefit student learning. 

Because it is a platform to demonstrate a culmination of knowledge, designing summative assessments is particularly critical to make the test accessible and inclusive for all different types of learners, and thus promote accurate measurement and data insights. Exam design principles include:

  • Test what has been taught; aligning summative assessment with instruction models and promotes integrity for students. 
  • Design assessments that focus on measuring both breadth and depth of student knowledge and consider eliminating components that do not inform learning. Offer a variety of assessment formats. Multiple-choice questions can effectively breadth of knowledge in a limited time while short-answer and long-answer formats can evaluate higher-order thinking. 
  • Offering a variety of formats and questions styles within a summative assessment can also accommodate different learning styles. When diverse formats are offered, a larger spectrum of learning can be assessed. Additionally, diverse formats provide different ways for students to demonstrate their learning. 
  • And consider eliminating grading on a curve, which can increase competition between students, some of whom may be cheating ( UC Berkeley, 2020 ). Researchers Schinske and Tanner state, “Moving away from curving sets the expectation that all students have the opportunity to achieve the highest possible grade” ( Schinske & Tanner, 2014 ). 
  • A rubric, too, benefits students by clarifying expectations and acts as added assurance that tests align to previously-communicated learning goals. 

How can summative assessments inform exam design?

Finally, the summative assessment itself is a living document, one that can be continuously optimized. 

Analyze student responses to ensure assessments are fair, and to examine answer patterns to see if shortcut solutions have been utilized. Item analysis , or formally examining student responses and patterns, can show whether or not summative assessments are accurately assessing student knowledge. The data (Did every student get one particular question wrong? Did every student get one particular question correct? What kinds of answers are your test questions eliciting? Did you get the answers you expected?) can inform both exam design and teaching. Furthermore, item analysis supports exam robustness by highlighting questions on exams that may need adjustment. 

Category tagging , a feature in ExamSoft assessment software, can offer more in-depth insights into future testing. A nursing program, for instance, can evaluate readiness for certification and the strength of curriculum to prepare students for standardized exams. Of course, category tagging can also fortify summative assessment within the curriculum. 

Conclusion: What is summative assessment?

In conclusion, summative assessments function largely as a way to evaluate learning at critical learning junctions, whether at the end of a term, end of a curriculum, or for advancement into the next level of schooling or licensure. The nature of summative assessments make them high-stakes, sometimes to the extent that they can negatively impact all prior learning. Moreover, they lack the opportunity for feedback, given their position in the educational journey.

That said, summative assessments are not wholly an endpoint. They are an intersection rich with data for educators to inform teaching, curriculum, and exam design. For students, too, there can be opportunities to learn, either by feedback or via data analysis, their own learning gaps and how to bridge them. 

When educators maximize the potential of summative assessment, they can foster learning. 

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Summative Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know

Weeks or months of study in a classroom generally culminate in a summative assessment. This refers to a test that evaluates a student’s comprehension of the material covered thus far. While other measures, such as homework and quizzes, cover potential or progress made, the essence of a summative assessment is more black and white — either the material has been learned (and taught) or not. As a result, these necessary but controversial assessments bring a lot of stress to both educators and students. Below are some of the key points about end of year assessments and tips for success.

Though they aren’t necessarily fun for teachers and students, summative assessments have a lot of advantages. They provide motivation for students to study and pay attention in class, particularly as they get older and grades become a major indicator of success in college or the working world. They also give great insight to teachers: if none of the children in a class score above a 2 or 3 on an AP exam, it is much more likely to be the result of poor or off-topic instruction than a class of students unable to complete the work.

Precisely because summative assessments reflect so closely on teacher performance, many instructors are accused of “teaching to the test.” In other words, if a state test is known to heavily favor anagrams or analogies, students may be asked to spend hours drilling those exercises instead of reading and writing to grow their vocabularies naturally. Conversely, no assessment is perfect, so even students with excellent knowledge of the material may run into questions that trip them up, especially if they get nervous under pressure. As a result, summative assessment is not always the most accurate reflection of learning.

Measurements and markers

Summative assessment gives students a level, usually numerical, and placement in which they can be compared against both other students and the standards for their grade. This is most commonly seen in:

  • Literacy tests
  • College entrance exams like the SAT or ACT
  • End of year school, county, or statewide testing
  • Special program learning, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate

Performance is often shown both in percentage of questions answered right, and by comparing performance with the rest of the class, state, or nation. A student scoring in the 90th percentile, for example, completed more questions correctly than 90 percent of other test-takers. This sort of competition indicates benchmark performances and helps admissions officers make informed decisions, but it can also cause undue anxiety for students who struggle more than their peers in certain areas.

Unique adaptations

There are non-traditional ways to use summative assessments to enhance the learning process. Many teachers find it useful to:

  • Create the test after the learning plan. Though it may seem obvious, the best evaluation covers the material the instructor and curriculum meant to emphasize. If, for instance, a teacher holds a final exam in literature to the constant standard of “Does this student read deeper into the text?” he or she will have crafted a summative assessment that stays on point with learning goals.
  • Offer different options. Standardized state and national tests have very little room for re-imagining. A classroom final, however, could be given as a visual/audio presentation, a long-form test, or an individual essay. By allowing students to explain the material in a medium they feel comfortable with, teachers get an accurate picture of their understanding.
  • Move it out of the classroom. Unfortunately, many students decide early on that they are not strong in academics. By making the final resemble a real-world application, much of the pressure and stigma is removed, along with the temptation to plagiarize. Have biology students identify animals in nature or at a preserve, or have business students create job descriptions and resumes. This style of assessment can cover a broad range of material, and more closely emulates performance reviews and projects in a career field.

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Formative and summative assessments.

Assessment allows both instructor and student to monitor progress towards achieving learning objectives, and can be approached in a variety of ways. Formative assessment refers to tools that identify misconceptions, struggles, and learning gaps along the way and assess how to close those gaps. It includes effective tools for helping to shape learning, and can even bolster students’ abilities to take ownership of their learning when they understand that the goal is to improve learning, not apply final marks (Trumbull and Lash, 2013). It can include students assessing themselves, peers, or even the instructor, through writing, quizzes, conversation, and more. In short, formative assessment occurs throughout a class or course, and seeks to improve student achievement of learning objectives through approaches that can support specific student needs (Theal and Franklin, 2010, p. 151). 

In contrast, summative assessments evaluate student learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success at the conclusion of an instructional period, like a unit, course, or program. Summative assessments are almost always formally graded and often heavily weighted (though they do not need to be). Summative assessment can be used to great effect in conjunction and alignment with formative assessment, and instructors can consider a variety of ways to combine these approaches. 

Examples of Formative and Summative Assessments

Both forms of assessment can vary across several dimensions (Trumbull and Lash, 2013): 

  • Informal / formal
  • Immediate / delayed feedback
  • Embedded in lesson plan / stand-alone
  • Spontaneous / planned
  • Individual / group
  • Verbal / nonverbal
  • Oral / written
  • Graded / ungraded
  • Open-ended response / closed/constrained response
  • Teacher initiated/controlled / student initiated/controlled
  • Teacher and student(s) / peers
  • Process-oriented / product-oriented
  • Brief / extended
  • Scaffolded (teacher supported) / independently performed 


Formative Assessment   Ideally, formative assessment strategies improve teaching and learning simultaneously. Instructors can help students grow as learners by actively encouraging them to self-assess their own skills and knowledge retention, and by giving clear instructions and feedback. Seven principles (adapted from Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2007 with additions) can guide instructor strategies:

  • Keep clear criteria for what defines good performance - Instructors can explain criteria for A-F graded papers, and encourage student discussion and reflection about these criteria (this can be accomplished though office hours, rubrics, post-grade peer review, or exam / assignment wrappers ). Instructors may also hold class-wide conversations on performance criteria at strategic moments throughout a term.
  • Encourage students’ self-reflection - Instructors can ask students to utilize course criteria to evaluate their own or a peer’s work, and to share what kinds of feedback they find most valuable. In addition, instructors can ask students to describe the qualities of their best work, either through writing or group discussion.
  • Give students detailed, actionable feedback - Instructors can consistently provide specific feedback tied to predefined criteria, with opportunities to revise or apply feedback before final submission. Feedback may be corrective and forward-looking, rather than just evaluative. Examples include comments on multiple paper drafts, criterion discussions during 1-on-1 conferences, and regular online quizzes.
  • Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning - Instructors can invite students to discuss the formative learning process together. This practice primarily revolves around mid-semester feedback and small group feedback sessions , where students reflect on the course and instructors respond to student concerns. Students can also identify examples of feedback comments they found useful and explain how they helped. A particularly useful strategy, instructors can invite students to discuss learning goals and assignment criteria, and weave student hopes into the syllabus.
  • Promote positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem - Students will be more motivated and engaged when they are assured that an instructor cares for their development. Instructors can allow for rewrites/resubmissions to signal that an assignment is designed to promote development of learning. These rewrites might utilize low-stakes assessments, or even automated online testing that is anonymous, and (if appropriate) allows for unlimited resubmissions.
  • Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance - Related to the above, instructors can improve student motivation and engagement by making visible any opportunities to close gaps between current and desired performance. Examples include opportunities for resubmission, specific action points for writing or task-based assignments, and sharing study or process strategies that an instructor would use in order to succeed.  
  • Collect information which can be used to help shape teaching - Instructors can feel free to collect useful information from students in order to provide targeted feedback and instruction. Students can identify where they are having difficulties, either on an assignment or test, or in written submissions. This approach also promotes metacognition , as students are asked to think about their own learning. Poorvu Center staff can also perform a classroom observation or conduct a small group feedback session that can provide instructors with potential student struggles. 

Instructors can find a variety of other formative assessment techniques through Angelo and Cross (1993), Classroom Assessment Techniques (list of techniques available here ).

Summative Assessment   Because summative assessments are usually higher-stakes than formative assessments, it is especially important to ensure that the assessment aligns with the goals and expected outcomes of the instruction.  

  • Use a Rubric or Table of Specifications - Instructors can use a rubric to lay out expected performance criteria for a range of grades. Rubrics will describe what an ideal assignment looks like, and “summarize” expected performance at the beginning of term, providing students with a trajectory and sense of completion. 
  • Design Clear, Effective Questions - If designing essay questions, instructors can ensure that questions meet criteria while allowing students freedom to express their knowledge creatively and in ways that honor how they digested, constructed, or mastered meaning. Instructors can read about ways to design effective multiple choice questions .
  • Assess Comprehensiveness - Effective summative assessments provide an opportunity for students to consider the totality of a course’s content, making broad connections, demonstrating synthesized skills, and exploring deeper concepts that drive or found a course’s ideas and content. 
  • Make Parameters Clear - When approaching a final assessment, instructors can ensure that parameters are well defined (length of assessment, depth of response, time and date, grading standards); knowledge assessed relates clearly to content covered in course; and students with disabilities are provided required space and support.
  • Consider Blind Grading - Instructors may wish to know whose work they grade, in order to provide feedback that speaks to a student’s term-long trajectory. If instructors wish to provide truly unbiased summative assessment, they can also consider a variety of blind grading techniques .

Considerations for Online Assessments

Effectively implementing assessments in an online teaching environment can be particularly challenging. The Poorvu Center shares these  recommendations .

Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 2-19.

Theall, M. and Franklin J.L. (2010). Assessing Teaching Practices and Effectiveness for Formative Purposes. In: A Guide to Faculty Development. KJ Gillespie and DL Robertson (Eds). Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd.


Nancy Niemi in conversation with a new faculty member at the Greenberg Center

Instructional Enhancement Fund

The Instructional Enhancement Fund (IEF) awards grants of up to $500 to support the timely integration of new learning activities into an existing undergraduate or graduate course. All Yale instructors of record, including tenured and tenure-track faculty, clinical instructional faculty, lecturers, lectors, and part-time acting instructors (PTAIs), are eligible to apply. Award decisions are typically provided within two weeks to help instructors implement ideas for the current semester.

summative assessment benefits for teachers

Reserve a Room

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning partners with departments and groups on-campus throughout the year to share its space. Please review the reservation form and submit a request.

summative assessment benefits for teachers

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning routinely supports members of the Yale community with individual instructional consultations and classroom observations.

Eberly Center

Teaching excellence & educational innovation, what is the difference between formative and summative assessment, formative assessment.

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes , which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

Summative assessment

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Summative assessments are often high stakes , which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam
  • a final project
  • a senior recital

Information from summative assessments can be used formatively when students or faculty use it to guide their efforts and activities in subsequent courses.

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