Formative Assessment vs Summative Assessment

Formative Assessment vs Summative Assessment

Formative Assessment is often the overlooked sibling to Summative Assessment. This is probably because some think that it doesn’t count. Summative Assessment is, after all, often used as the final deciding factor for competency. But we mustn’t forget that they are complementary to each other.

Here, we decided to delve into the learning pit and find out a bit more about Formative and Summative Assessment and why they’re important tools for learners and training organisations.

What is Formative Assessment?

Formative Assessment is a method used to gauge student comprehension and learning progress throughout a unit or course. Technically speaking, Formative Assessment is part of the learning process. Some examples include:

  • Quizzes
  • Student conferences
  • Portfolio checks
  • Journal entries

Formative Assessment is an essential tool, used to collect ongoing information about students’ areas of strength, and to target areas that may need more attention.

What is Summative Assessment?

Summative assessment is an evaluation of what a student learns during the course, term, semester or year. Some examples include:

  • Final exams
  • Cumulative portfolios
  • End of unit tests
  • Standardised tests that evaluate school accountability, like NAPLAN

This cumulative data is typically used for examining the student’s lifetime information retention. Some Summative Assessments like final exams have questions from the beginning of the course to make sure the students are left with important information.

How do Summative and Formative Assessment Work Together?

The difference between Formative and Summative Assessment can be difficult to identify. In our current educational system the purposes both have are not always supportive.

Training providers and teachers often consider cutting their time conducting summative assessments to concentrate on diagnostic, formative assessments. Official standards like grades A-C may symbolise achievement but seldom include related learning factors such as readiness to learn or motivation. Grades are not explicit about student progress nor give trainers information that would advance their training methods. Training providers must be able to provide that.

What Are Some Examples of Formative Assessments?

Formative Assessment doesn’t have to be dull! In fact, it can be a way to add excitement and rigour to your lesson material and a chance for some interactivity from your students. We have compiled a free downloadable infographic of formative assessment techniques. These 15 techniques are sure to capture learners’ attention.

1. Index Card Summaries/Questions

Hand out index cards and have students write on both sides with the following instructions:

  • Side 1: Based on your study of [insert topic], list an idea that you understand and word it as a summary statement
  • Side 2: Identify something about [insert topic] that you do not understand and word it as a statement or question.

By having students identify areas that they understand provides an opportunity for reflection and to cement this knowledge using language they’ll likely remember. Identifying areas they don’t understand provides insight for both student and trainer on information that may need to be covered again during training and/or reviewed again by the student.

2. Misconception Check

Present students with a false fact about a designated subject, and ask them whether they agree or disagree and why. The misconception check can also be presented in the form of a multiple-choice or true or false quiz.

This is a useful tool to determine if students can identify what they disagree with, what they might agree with and provide their reasoning. This technique is most useful during a lesson where the trainer can use the feedback to adjust their approach to addressing that particular topic.

Top tip: Every now and then present students with a correct fact, and ask them what they agree or disagree with and why.

3. Student Conference

One-on-one conversation with students to determine their level of comprehension.

Sitting down with students in person or online, is perhaps the single most useful tool a trainer can use to determine learning progress. A simple 5 minute conversation, every few weeks, can allow the trainer to know the students on a more personal level, and thus increase trust and empower students to ask questions.

This also provides opportunity for trainers to ask students directly about their skills, what they feel they are picking up easily and where they may be struggling. In addition, trainers can engage in some verbal questioning and observation that provides evidence of what the student knows. This is particularly useful in situations where online learning and assessment has taken place and the trainer or assessor is looking to prove authenticity, in that the evidence presented in assessment was indeed the work of the student.

If you are using an Online Training and Assessment solution, you can even record these conversations and save them to further enhance your compliance to the standards for RTOs.

Top tip: Ask students to bring their notebooks to encourage them to discuss their learning using their own recorded data.

4. Three-Minute Pause

Provide students with an opportunity to stop and reflect on the information and concepts that have just been presented.

This strategy is useful and can be used individually or in groups. Trainers can pose a question, or a couple of questions, at any time during a lesson and have students respond by writing their ideas/responses on a piece of paper or index card. These can be shared or submitted, giving the trainer the opportunity to adjust the lesson if required.

If conducting the lesson remotely you could use the course forum, “Posts” within Cloud Assess for any questions your cohort has. You can reply and the information is stored in the communication stream available for the trainer and students to review when they need it.

Giving students time during learning to contemplate new information encourages them to link to existing knowledge, and seek further explanation if required.

5. Observation

Observe students at work to monitor learning before Summative Assessment

Observing students, whether directly or via a third party, offers insight into learning that is not possible in any other form of assessment. Structured observation provides evidence without having to rely on the student’s ability to report what/how/why they do what they do.

When planned correctly the observer may have little to no effect on the activities being observed, or may blend into the background entirely. There are discussion opportunities that can lead to valuable feedback for the student and the assessor, and can provide valuable information about the student’s progress, strengths and challenges.

6. Self-Assessment

Encourage students to reflect on their own learning and performance, set goals and create action plans. Have students analyse their own learning in a self-assessment.

Having students self-assess encourages them to critically reflect their own learning progress and performance and take responsibility for their learning. This will help them become more autonomous learners and gain awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses.

Top tip: Using a checklist will provide a framework for self-assessment and keep students on track and invested in their learning journey.

7. Exit Card

Written responses to questions asked at the end of a lesson.
When handed in for review at the end of a lesson these provide immediate insight that can be used by the trainer or assessor about the students’ understanding and progress. These are also a valuable tool for gathering feedback on training strategies.

8. Portfolio Check

Ask your students to compile a comprehensive collection of important work purposefully displayed to communicate achievement. Make sure you allocate time to review this regularly.

Assessing students’ portfolios is a useful way to gather information and make note of student learning and progress on specific unit outcomes. Students should be instructed to present their portfolios in a way that communicates acquired skills and mastery of unit requirements.

9. Quiz

Gauge students’ knowledge about specific topics, concepts and skills. Examples include:

  • Multiple Choice
  • Open-Ended Questions
  • Closed-Ended Questions
  • Classification
  • Sequencing
  • Labelling/Identification

Who doesn’t love a pop quiz?! While students may grumble and groan at first, this is a surefire way to gather information about where specific students, and students as a group, are excelling or struggling. Scheduling a quiz and informing students allows them time to prepare and can encourage creating positive study habits and critical thinking.

There are countless formats that can be used and can be as simple or comprehensive as necessary. Either way, they’re a useful tool to identify what students do and do not know, and offer feedback about where training may need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the group.

10. Four Corners

Assesses student understanding and knowledge on a given subject.

This is carried out as follows:

  • Four corners of the room are labelled with four possible answers to a selected question;
  • After being asked, students think independently and commit to an answer;
  • Students physically move to the corner that represents their answer;
  • Students then discuss and share their reasoning with the group members;
  • Students can then disperse among themselves and discuss the reasoning of other group members.

This is an activity that promotes conversation and team work among the students. They need to discuss why they made their decision and consider the validity of the alternate opinions. Is there more than one right answer? Is there a compromise to be made? These discussions will promote critical thinking and healthy debate between students and open their eyes to other trainings of thought.

11. 3-2-1

Have students consider their topic and categorise the information as follows:

  • 3 things you learned, 2 things you find interesting, 1 question you still have
  • 3 things you learned, 2 questions you still have, 1 opinion you now have
  • 3 key words, 2 new ideas, 1 thing to think about
  • Write 3 questions about the topic, Write 2 predictions based on your learning, Make 1 connection to something you’ve already learned

Much like the index cards, this strategy gives students an opportunity to reflect on topics and summarise some key ideas.

Top tip: Have some fun with it and make it interesting. In addition to using straightforward categories, swap these around and add new topics in that encourage lateral thinking.

12. Student Notebooks

An exercise for students to record and track their learning, set goals and create action plans.

Encouraging students to take an active role in their learning can lead to higher motivation and performance. This approach allows them to have a voice and become more self-directed learners. Encourage students to bring their notebooks to student conferences/meetings so they can discuss their learning using their own recorded data.

13. Journal Entry

Students document their understanding of the unit material. Trainers review the entries to ensure that that students have gained an understanding of what was covered.

Similar to the student data notebooks, journal entries offer insights to the students’ learning journey. Regular review of these entries can offer important information about students’ understanding and challenges around course topics, and allow trainers and assessors to detect issues early and prevent any major learning problems from developing.

14. One Sentence Summary

Students write a summary sentence that answers “who, what, where, when, why, how” questions about a topic.

Another open-ended strategy with several useful possibilities, one sentence summaries can be used to open a lesson, close a lesson, encourage group discussion, encourage individual reflection, they can be done orally or written, or in song if you prefer! Any way you slice it this method is sure to provide insight into students’ understanding of course content.

15. Oral Questioning

Students orally answer questions, such as:

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • What questions are we trying to answer?
  • What is the key concept?
  • What details can you add?
  • What conclusions can be drawn?

Questioning techniques can be an important part of instruction. It encourages critical thinking as well as forcing students to think on their feet and provide an immediate answer. While this can prove useful in many instances, it is not appropriate for all situations or with all students. It does provide students who prefer oral communication to written, but can also disadvantage those who may not be confident when speaking publicly. However, you could hold a 1 to 1 interview with any student who suggests they’d prefer a more private conversation on the topic.

The Takeaway of Formative vs Summative Assessment

While Formative Assessment is a useful strategy to ensure learner comprehension and progress throughout a unit or course, it is equally as important for trainers to ensure their lesson materials are effective and engaging. Take the time to regularly review assessment outcomes, and make changes where necessary.

Formative and Summative Assessment are essential to reviewing a student’s progress. It is important to put just as much effort and resources toward Formative Assessment as one would Summative Assessment.

When done right, these two forms of Assessment will work together, providing a comprehensive overview of student progress.


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