Forms of Assessment and Summative Assessment in Education

Assessment is a term that includes all of the various methods used to determine the extent of an individual’s achievement. In teaching and learning situation, assessment refers to the methods used to determine achievement of learning outcomes. Similarly in professional contexts, assessment is concerned with the achievement of professional standards or competence.(Aranda & Yates,2009). Assessment also provides a number of major benefits including:

  • Grading: assessment may be used to define achievement and to measure the students’ preparedness for professional challenges.

  • Motivation: assessment may focus on real learning by creating an opportunity that carries with it the rewards of completion or grades.
  • Learning process: assessment activities can guide individuals to learn and relearn subject content efficiently.
  • Feedback: assessment provides opportunities for individuals to monitor the quality of their performance and identify areas for improvement.

Purpose Of Assessment

It is easy to become so immersed in the job of teaching that we lose sight the exact purpose of a assessment. There is then the possibility that we are overlooking another form of assessment which might be more appropriate.

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We actually assess students for quite a range of different reasons – motivation, creating learning opportunities, to give feedback (to both students and staff), to grade, and as a quality assurance mechanism (both for internal and external systems). Because all too often we do not disentangle these functions of assessment, without having really thought it through assessments are frequently trying to do all these things, to varying degrees.(Oxford Brookes University,2011).

In fact it is arguable that while it is desirable for assessments meeting the first three of these functions to be conducted as often as possible, the final two do not need to be done anywhere near so frequently; it is simply important that they are done somewhere.

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The implications of this are that while an essay question, where all the answers are double marked and the marks count towards the students’ final grades, may fulfil all these functions, for all assessments to be this rigorous would be prohibitively expensive in staff time, while a peer-assessed seminar presentation, which does not count towards the students’ final grades but is simply a course requirement, could fulfil the first three functions and may not even require a tutor to be present.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is typically contrasted with summative assessment. The former supports teachers and students in decision-making during educational and learning processes, while the latter occurs at the end of a learning unit and determines if the content being taught was retained.(Wikipedia,2013). Formative assessment is not distinguished by the format of assessment, but by how the information is used. The same test may act as either formative or summative. However, some methods of assessment are better suited to one or the other purpose.

Characteristics Of Formative Assessment

During formative assessment, learning is the shared goal of both teacher and student and alterations to the teaching and learning process take place as needed to further the goal. This allows both the teacher and the student the opportunity for assessment and improvement as an ongoing process instead of an end product. Formative assessments are assessments for learning, rather than assessments of learning, according to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Formative assessments are focused on the learning process as well as the learning progress. While other assessments may only focus on the end result, formative assessments check the students progress consistently so that adjustments can be made to reach learning goals.


A formative assessment is consistent and ongoing throughout the learning process. It differs from assessments that focus on the end result. Ongoing assessments give both teachers and students the chance to make adjustments to teaching and learning strategies so learning ultimately takes place.


While other forms of assessment focus on the end result, formative assessments provide immediate feedback to both teachers and students due to ongoing assessment practices. The immediate feedback teachers and students experience can be used to motivate and further learning.

Limitations Of Formative Assessments

Although offering many benefits, effective formative assessment can be difficult to achieve at scale. It may be logistically impossible to provide detailed descriptive feedback for each student in a large class. Even with a smaller number of students to deal with, formative assessment is time-consuming as it requires significant, ongoing dedication and effort from the teacher to sustain.

This is especially true when combined with the summative assessments teachers are required to complete. The layered accountability chain in education — student to teacher, teacher to school, school to district, etc. — creates systemic pressure for student performance to be objectively and comparatively measurable at each level. Formative assessment, by definition, doesn’t easily provide that kind of accountability. This explains why, although the advantages of formative assessment have been repeatedly articulated since the distinction between it and summative assessment was first made in 1967, empirical studies continue to show that very few teachers consistently make use of it in actual practice.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment measures attainment and allows for the recording of the learning progress. It usually takes the form of tests and examinations, though it is becoming increasingly common for summative assessment to include other tasks such as a project completed during the school year. This move away from assessments based on a single examination gives learners the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. Not all learners perform well under examination pressure. Furthermore,examinations do not always lend themselves to eliciting the range of language structures and uses that have been the objective of teaching

Characteristics Of Summative Assessment

The results of summative assessment allow us to determine the degree to which learners have attained specific learning objectives. Such a decision may have an important consequence on learners’ future prospects. It is therefore crucial that not only is the assessment valid, but that the results obtained are reliable. Validity relates to whether the assessment tasks assess what they intend to assess. Reliability, on the other hand, refers to the results obtained and whether these would be the same if the same learners took the assessment on another occasion provided that no further learning had taken place and regardless of who marked the assessment if more than one person was involved in the process.

(Summative assessment,2005). Whether summative assessment is norm-or criterion-referenced will be determined by the purpose of the assessment. If we need to select the best candidates to, for example, continue with their education, then norm-referencing would be appropriate. However, if we are interested in whether candidates have mastered certain skills, then we would not get the required information through norm-referencing.(Meason) For example, when assessing airline pilots we are interested in whether they can fly a plane safely to a very high level of proficiency. Knowing which trainees were the best would not suffice since it is possible that no trainee of a given group would have reached the required standard to safely fly a plane

Limitations Of Summative Assessment

Students can face anxiety in preparation for a test, an anxiety that grows as the perception of the test’s significance grows. Summative tests advise schools to commit to prolonged pretesting procedures and preparation classes, which can increase student anxiety.(Spiral). In addition, some students simply do not test well, and the result is a testing procedure that fails to adequately assess the real talents of individual students, while a formative assessment would allow a teacher to evaluate these conditions and better assess a student’s ability Summative assessments fan have an overall negative impact on student self-esteem, resulting from the perception of inferiority that standardized tests can give test-takers.

Students who perform poorly on standardized tests were found to suffer from lower self-esteem in situations where these same students had not previously exhibited signs of self-esteem problems.(Boggiano,1992). Even students who perform average or well on standardized tests can suffer from the failure to meet their own higher expectations. The result can be a reduction in educational motivation.(Hammond).


In my view, both types of assessments are better, that is a balanced assessment.A balanced assessment system in one in which a variety of assessments are used for a variety of purposes and communications about results facilitates student involvement and ownership of learning.Formative assessment can be vital importance in helping the teacher and students determine the quality of learning that is taking place and can allow them to forecast the results of summative tests some time in advance of the summative testing.Such results can be used as the basis for altering the teaching learning situation early enough to change the immediate as well as alter the forecast. Learning is a process which can be observed and evaluated as it is taking place.Formative evaluation can be used to make the process more effective long before the summative evaluation.Recognition of the interaction among formative evaluation teaching and learning and summative evaluation can do much to improve teaching and learning before it is too late.


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Forms of Assessment and Summative Assessment in Education. (2016, May 08). Retrieved from

Forms of Assessment and Summative Assessment in Education

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