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Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment

Formative Assessment is a powerful tool used for checking the effectiveness of classroom instruction and student learning. At its most basic interpretation, formative feedback is defined as ungraded, usually anonymous, feedback from students on either a student’s impression of his or her own learning or a student’s opinions about elements of the course.

These activities generally take little time to complete, and can therefore occur one or more times during a class session. They are also invariably low-stakes, meaning that they have little to no impact on a student’s overall grade. The main purposes of formative assessments are to guide/adjust instruction and to help students see what they need to know / improve upon.

Some examples of formative assessments include one-minute “papers” in which students summarize what was covered during a class session in their own words, informal quizzes, short homework assignments, class discussions or mid-semester class evaluations.


Summative assessments are activities that evaluate student effectiveness in meeting a learning outcome. These assignments typically take place after instruction for a unit/module in a course has ended.

Some examples of summative assessments include, but are not limited to final exams, oral presentations, portfolios, group projects and papers. These activities are typically discussed in annual assessment reports.

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