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Formative vs. Summative Assessment: A Comparison Guide

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Assessment is an integral part of education, but it’s not a one size fits all solution. There are two main types of assessment: formative and summative.

Formative assessment is an ongoing process that monitors student learning progress, provides feedback, and guides instructional decisions during instruction. While summative assessment evaluates student learning outcomes at the end of instruction or a specific period, determining the overall achievement and mastery of learning objectives.

Formative vs. Summative Assessment

Formative AssessmentSummative Assessment
Formative assessment is used to monitor and provide feedback on students’ learning progress during instruction. It helps identify strengths and weaknesses and guides instructional decisions.Summative assessment is used to evaluate students’ learning at the end of a unit, course, or program. It assesses the overall achievement and determines the level of mastery or performance.
It is conducted during the learning process, allowing for adjustments and improvements based on feedback. It is ongoing and continuous.It is conducted after the completion of instruction or a specific period. It provides a snapshot of student performance at a particular point in time.
Formative assessment focuses on identifying and addressing individual student needs, promoting growth, and guiding future instruction. It emphasizes learning progress and improvement.Summative assessment focuses on evaluating the overall achievement of students. It aims to determine the extent to which learning objectives have been met and provide a summary judgment of performance.
It provides immediate and specific feedback to students, helping them understand their strengths and areas for improvement. It facilitates self-reflection and guides future learning efforts.It generally provides feedback after the evaluation process. The feedback is often used to inform future instructional planning and to provide an overall evaluation of performance.
Formative assessment may or may not be graded, as its primary purpose is to inform instructional decisions rather than assign a final score or grade.Summative assessment is typically graded and contributes to a final score or grade that reflects the students’ overall performance in a course or program.
Examples of formative assessment include classroom discussions, quizzes, polls, and teacher observations during instruction.Examples of summative assessment include final exams, standardized tests, end-of-unit assessments, and project presentations.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment is an ongoing process used by educators to gather information about students’ learning progress and provide feedback during the instructional process. It aims to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses, guide instructional decisions, and promote learning improvement.

Formative assessment methods can include classroom discussions, quizzes, observations, feedback, and self-assessments.

The primary focus of formative assessment is to monitor student understanding and provide timely interventions to support their learning journey.

What is Summative Assessment?

Summative assessment is an evaluation conducted at the end of a unit, course, or instructional period to determine students’ overall learning outcomes and achievement. It assesses the level of mastery of learning objectives and provides a summary judgment of performance.

Summative assessments are typically graded and can include final exams, standardized tests, project presentations, or end-of-unit assessments.

The purpose of summative assessment is to make judgments about students’ knowledge, skills, and competencies, often for the purpose of assigning grades or determining readiness for advancement.

Pros and cons of Formative Assessment


  • Allows teachers to adjust instruction based on student needs
  • Helps identify areas where students need additional support
  • Provides immediate feedback to students


  • Can be time-consuming for teachers to administer and grade
  • May be challenging to align with larger summative assessments
  • Students may not take formative assessments seriously if they do not count toward their grade

Pros and cons of Summative Assessment

  • Formative assessment is ongoing and allows for immediate feedback, which can help students improve their understanding and performance in real-time. However, formative assessment can be time-consuming for teachers to administer and grade.
  • Summative assessment is used to assess student learning at the end of a unit or semester. It can provide a more holistic view of student learning, but it may not give students the opportunity to immediately correct any misunderstandings.
  • Summative assessment can also be more difficult and time-consuming for teachers to grade than formative assessment.

How to incorporate both types of assessments in the classroom

1) Use formative assessment as often as possible, especially in the beginning stages of learning. This will help you get a better sense of where your students are struggling and what needs to be addressed.

2) Incorporate formative assessment into your daily routine as much as possible. For example, start each class with a quick write or exit ticket assessing what students learned the previous day or what they’re hoping to learn that day.

3 ) Use a variety of formative assessments to check for understanding. Different students respond to different types of assessments, so having a range of activities that you can pull from will be beneficial.

4) Incorporate summative assessment at the end of each unit or semester to provide an overall assessment of student learning. Make sure that your summative assessment is comprehensive and includes all the topics and skills covered in the unit.

5) Allow students to practice and get feedback on their summative assessment before it is graded. This will help them understand what they need to do in order to improve their score on the final exam or project.

Alternatives to traditional assessment methods

Portfolios are collections of student work that can be used to assess student progress over time. Performance assessments are tasks or projects that students complete in order to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Student-led conferences are meetings between students and teachers in which students present their work and reflect on their progress.

Portfolios, for example, can be time-consuming to create and maintain. Performance assessments may be difficult to design and score consistently. Student-led conferences can be disruptive to classroom instruction.

Formative assessment is most effective when it is used as part of a larger system of assessment that includes both formative and summative components.

Key differences between Formative and Summative Assessment

  • Purpose: Formative assessment is designed to provide ongoing feedback and monitor student learning throughout the instructional process. It aims to identify areas of strength and weakness, inform instructional decisions, and guide student improvement. Summative assessment, on the other hand, is used to evaluate student learning at the end of a unit, course, or academic period. It measures overall achievement and determines whether learning goals have been met.
  • Timing: Formative assessment is continuous and occurs during the learning process. It helps identify student progress and provides immediate feedback for instructional adjustments. Summative assessment takes place after the completion of instruction or a specific period, assessing the overall outcomes of learning.
  • Feedback: Formative assessment provides timely feedback to students, focusing on specific areas for improvement and guiding their learning journey. It helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses to enhance their understanding and performance. The summative assessment generally provides feedback in the form of grades or scores, offering a summary evaluation of overall achievement without specific guidance for improvement.
differences between Formative and Summative Assessment


Formative assessment focuses on providing ongoing feedback and monitoring student progress during instruction, facilitating adjustments and improvement. While summative assessment evaluates overall achievement at the end of a learning period, providing a summary evaluation of student performance.

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