Friday, 20 April 2012 17:46

Formative vs. Summative Assessment

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Formative vs. Summative Assessment Growing knowledge © 2012 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

An instructor may choose to use different learning activities and assessments to encourage learning. There is a large difference between what is used to provide feedback (formative assessment) and what is used as a summary of learning (summative assessment).

Formative assessments are like checkpoints. They are opportunities for learners to receive feedback on their work in order to make revisions. And not just any type of feedback, descriptive feedback. Writing “good job” or “needs improvement” on an assignment does not guide students in the process of revision and deepening their learning. Descriptive feedback guides students in how they can improve and assess their work. For this reason, formative assessment does not typically have grades attached to it. Instead of evaluating the student’s learning based on accuracy or performance within a certain time period, the instructor provides guidance and feedback for improving qualitative learning.

On the other hand, summative assessment is an opportunity for students to show what they have learned or mastered. Common examples are a unit project or a final exam. If formative assessment is correctly employed, students should feel confident completing the summative assessment.

For more information on this topic watch the video “Rick Wormeli: Formative and Summative Assessment” (2010). Although his application concentrates on school children rather than college level students, the principles of these assessments remain the same.


Stenhousepublishers. (2010, November 30). Rick Wormeli: Formative and Summative Assessment. [online video]. Retrieved from

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Christie Robertson

I remember what it was like being a new instructor: too many questions and too many resources to sift through. My goal as a writer for Learning Connections is to help instructors with common teaching issues, whether they are f-2-f, blended or online. I want answers to those frequently asked question to be easy to find!