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Formative assessment

Formative assessment
Hi. My name is Anna Gonzales. I am a student assistant at the faculty of Economics and Business here at the University of Groningen. Currently, I am doing a Master’s in International Economics and Business while teaching first year students in small teaching groups for the course International Business. In this activity, we will go deeper into the last building block of a course; assessment, and focusing on giving feedback as a form of formative assessment. The goal of any course is to acquire knowledge and/or skill. Assessment is meant to test whether one has actually acquired the knowledge or mastered the skill. These goals are stated in the intended learning outcomes written for each course. Ine talked about this in week two.
There are two kinds of assessment; summative and formative. Let’s start by discussing summative assessment. The idea is to determine whether the student has reached the intended learning outcomes. This kind of assessment is evaluated with a grade, or a pass or fail. You have either acquired an acceptable level of knowledge, or mastery of the skill, or you have not. Referring back to Ine’s metaphor of running the four mile Groningen in under 35 minutes, the summative assessment would be her final time. If she finishes in under 35 minutes, she reached her goal. If she took longer, she failed. As a side note, Ine successfully finished the four mile in 34 minutes, 13 seconds.
A good example of summative assessment in an academic teaching setting is the final exam of a course. At the end of semester, a student sits for an exam and receives a grade which leads to a pass or fail. The other kind of assessment is formative. The idea here is to check how far students have progressed towards reaching the intended learning outcomes. Formative assessment is all about monitoring a student’s progress and providing feedback. The following three questions can help you with tailoring your feedback and with correctly monitoring the progress of the student. The first question– what do I have to do, what are the intended learning outcomes? This can be seen as feed-up information to the student.
The second question– where am I, what is the student’s progress towards reaching the learning outcome– can be seen as feedback information. And the last question– where do I need to be, what needs to be done to close the gap between the student’s current position and the place where he or she should be– can be seen as feed forward information. Once having studied this set of questions, and prepared accordingly, your feedback will help the student answer these same questions. Feedback can be used to inform students about their current progress and help them reach the final goal. It is designed to support the student in identifying discrepancies between their current and projected progress to successfully reach the learning outcome.
Following Ine’s example of running the four mile, formative assessment would be to time her during training. If she needs to improve, she could add exercise to her practise in order to help her run faster, and ultimately finish the race in under 35 minutes. An example of this in an academic setting is a written assignment given in the middle of a course, where the result does not affect the final grade of the course. The paper is a learning activity designed to help the student reach the intended learning outcome, unlike with the previously discussed summative assessment. As a student assistant, at least here at the University of Groningen, you are not involved in summative assessment and giving grades.
That is a task for the course coordinator. Student assistants with teaching duties are, however, given a great deal of involvement in formative assessment. They review students’ assignments and provide feedback. As Stacy explained to you in week two, reflective observation is an important step in the so-called “deep learning.” The feedback you provide will help a student analyse his or her own work and reach a deeper understanding of the theory. This ensures that knowledge does not fade away after a course ends, but benefits the student in the long term. In the next step we will look closer at an example of formative assessment, in which a student assistant has given feedback on an assignment.
Read it through carefully and share your thoughts about the quality of the feedback.

In this video, Anne will deal with the last building block of a course: assessment.

There are two kinds of assessment: summative and formative. We will mainly focus on formative assessment. Find out more by watching the video.


  • Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Abingdon, England: Routledge.

  • van Berkel, H., Bax, A., & Joosten-ten Brinke, D. (2014). Toetsen in het hoger onderwijs. Houten, The Netherlands: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum.

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