Formative vs. Summative Assessments

Formative assessment

Formative assessments are used as part of the learning process. A formative assessment should help both the student and instructor monitor student learning. In this way, formative assessments help instructors to improve their teaching because they know where students are struggling and can address areas of concern quickly. Formative assessments also help students to become more self-directed. When students know their strengths and weaknesses, they can target their studies or ask for additional help.

Formative assessments are typically low stakes — either not graded or having a low point value. For example, you might ask students to:

  • Write a one minute paper on a topic to demonstrate current understanding
  • Summarize a lecture or reading in one or two sentences
  • Submit a research proposal, draft, or annotated bibliography for early feedback on a large project
  • Ask students to submit their muddiest point on a module or chapter.

Summative assessment

Summative assessments evaluate student learning at the end of a module, chapter, or semester. Student work is typically measured against a standard or benchmark.

Typically, summative assessments are high stakes, or worth a high percentage of the final grade. Summative assessments are familiar aspects of most courses:

  • Final projects
  • Research papers
  • Exams