Formative assessment is generally understood to be assessment tasks for which the outcomes (results) do not contribute to the overall final grade of the student.
Why is it important?
Formative assessment is a good example of where assessment is used for learning, as opposed of learning (such as is typically the case with summative assessment). Formative assessment can be particularly helpful in developing student assessment literacy.
Formative assessment is vital because it makes students more familiar with assessable learning outcomes, builds their commitment to learning and encourages active learning habits.
Students can achieve learning goals when they:
(a) understand the goals, (b) feel like those goals are personal goals, and (c) can evaluate their own progress across a module, part or programme. 1
From a lecturer's perspective, formative assessment has the added benefit that it can inform adaptation of teaching and learning strategies in response to students' changing needs.
How can formative and summative assessment work well in tandem in your programme or module? You may find the following pointers useful when thinking about the extent to which you use formative and summative assessment.
Feedback should be timely and feed-forward
Summative assessment will typically take place towards the end of a course of study, and its nature often requires an extended marking process to enable moderation. As such, the feedback from summative assessment often comes too late to be implemented in time for the next assessment or students cannot identify how feedback from one assessment can be relevant and applied to assessments on other modules. It is thus important that feedback is timely and feeds-forward. Please visit the pages on 'Engage in Feedback' for ideas and resources on how to effectively provide and engage students with feedback.
Students need to have opportunity to practice
If students, particularly first years, do not have experience of a particular type of assessment before it takes place then the fear of failure can lead to 'sudden death'3, which can be a significant contributor to students leaving university. Providing the opportunity to take part in 'low stakes' formative assessment at an earlier stage can reduce this4.
Peer and self-assessment provide a means of introducing formative assessment with less marking overhead. Getting students involved with the assessment process and having them provide feedback on their own work or that of their peers has multiple benefits.
1. Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18, 119-144.
2. Smith, E. & Gorard, S. (2005). 'They don't give us our marks': The role of formative feedback in student progress. Assessment in Education, 12(1), 21-38.
3. Race, P. (2009). Designing assessment to improve physical sciences learning: A physical sciences practice guide. Hull: Higher Education Physical Sciences Subject Centre.
4. Lines, D. & Mason, C. (2005). Enhancing practice: Assessment. Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Mansfield: Linney Direct.