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Summative and formative assessment

Summative and formative assessment.
Historically, assessment in education has been used solely as a benchmark to measure what students know or don’t know. The teacher taught the pupils, the pupils were tested on what they had learned, and the results were used to judge the pupils against outcomes and standards. The purpose is to evaluate what learning has taken place, also known as summative assessment or assessment of learning.
During the 1990s, there were concerns that pupils were being over assessed and too much focus was being placed on end results rather than progress. Guided by research, teachers began gathering evidence to determine what pupils know and can do and using this to inform the direction of their teaching. The purpose of this ongoing assessment is to gain feedback to improve teaching and also provide feedback to improve learning. This is known as formative assessment or assessment for learning.
Moving into the 21st century, more emphasis has been placed on the role of the pupil in the learning process, teachers now give students more control over their own learning, allowing them to choose activities and assessments that work for them or appeal to their interests.
The purpose is to develop pupils’ understanding of the assessment process and hence evaluate their own performance and adapt their learning to improve.

Assessment approaches have evolved significantly over time. However, they remain relevant to every discipline.

This evolution concerns not only students in higher education, but also applies to the broader educational context, such as pupils in schools (Black et al., 2003).

Watch the video to find out how and why assessment approaches have evolved.

You’ll notice there’s been a drive to increase the use of formative assessment to inform the planning and delivery of the curriculum, which corresponds to the assessment for learning approach you explored in an earlier step.

Formative assessment also plays a key role in developing students’ assessment literacy, as it enables learners to practice and refine their skills before undertaking a summative assessment.

Can you think of any examples of formative assessment from your own practice?


Black, P., Harrison, C., & Lee, C. (2003). Assessment for learning: Putting it into practice. McGraw-Hill Education.

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Exploring Teaching and Assessment for Higher Education

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