Summative vs Formative Assessment: Understanding the Key Differences

Summative vs Formative Assessment: Understanding the Key Differences Header Image

Assessments play a crucial role in a student's learning journey, as they are often the most precise way to determine what they have learned or identify any gaps in their knowledge. As an educator, they can also measure the effectiveness of your teaching practice.

While there are many different forms of assessments, the most popular are formative and summative assessments.

In this guide, we’ll explore the differences between summative vs formative assessments and how you can use Quizgecko's quiz maker to help construct assesments.

What is Formative Assessment?

Fortunately, the answer to the question of what is a formative assessment is a relatively simple one. Formative assessments, sometimes referred to as assessments for learning, track a student’s progress during their course.

They take place at regular intervals throughout the year to identify how a student is responding to the curriculum.

While typically ungraded, formative assessments provide feedback for determining whether future learning is needed and often highlight any gaps in a student's knowledge.

A report from Educational Services: Theory and Practice found that students who were given regular formative assessments “had significantly higher academic achievement levels and better attitudes towards the class” than those who did not.

What is Summative Assessment?

Summative assessments take place at the end of a course, term, or academic year and are used to measure just how much a student has learned. This form of assessment is graded and can sometimes be used to determine whether or not a student is ready to progress to the next stage of their academic career.

Types of Formative Assessment

There are many different types of formative assessments, including:

  • Quizzes
  • Educational Games
  • Group work
  • Oral projects

Types of Summative Assessment

There are many different types of summative assessments, including:

  • Tests
  • Essays
  • Projects (Individual/Group)
  • Written reports and papers
  • Thesis/Dissertation

Difference between Formative and Summative Assessment

When it comes to determining whether or not a summative vs. formative assessment is the best way to assess a student’s learning, it's important to first identify the differences between the two assessment methods.

The most obvious difference between the two forms of assessment is that they serve different purposes. While both measure a student’s knowledge and understanding, formative assessments are ungraded and designed to identify gaps in their knowledge ahead of time so that intervention can take place before the end of the year. Summative assessments are seen as ‘milestones’ because they are graded and used as progress markers.

How to Use Formative and Summative Assessment for Learning

While there’s a lot of debate among educators about which assessment method (summative assessment vs. formative) is better,you need to know how each can be used to assess overall student learning.

That is, instead of favoring one over the other, educators should find a way to integrate both methods into their curriculum. Below are some examples of how to use formative and summative assessment to promote learning.

Formative vs. Summative assessment examples.


  • Group projects. This could include oral presentations, projects, and reports.
  • Quizzes. This could include both online and in-class Quizzes tailored around your curriculum or learning goals.
  • Educational games. This could include practical or in-person games alongside digital ones.


  • Tests. This could include formal, written assessments, SATs, and multiple-choice quizzes.
  • Papers/Reports. This could include a thesis, dissertation, or a more simplistic written report conducted at the end of a course.
  • Oral reports. This could include both individual and group projects.

Assessment for Learning vs Summative Assessment

Both formative and summative assessments benefit students of all ages and capabilities. They also provide teachers and educators with valuable insight into mistakes they may be making within their own teaching practices, especially if many students share the same knowledge gaps.

Types of Evaluation in Teaching and Learning

As mentioned above, there are many different types of evaluation in teaching and learning. This includes both formative and summative evaluations.

Summative Evaluations.

Summative evaluations occur at the end of the academic year or term or to mark the completion of a course. They are often considered vital tools when monitoring a student’s academic or learning progress and could identify when further support is necessary for them to achieve their goals moving forward.

As summative evaluations are graded, they tend to be tests that are discussed at parent-teacher meetings or featured on report cards. In some instances, they may be used to determine whether or not a student is accepted into higher education or special education programs.

Academic institutes also use summative evaluations as a method to evaluate a teacher’s own performance, ensuring the best interests of students are protected.

Formative Evaluations.

Formative evaluations, or evaluations for learning, tend to be a more laid-back method of student evaluation. Whether they take place in the form of a pop quiz, game, or oral report, they are often less formal and are rarely graded. However, this does not mean they are any less effective than summative assessments, especially when it comes to caring for students on an individual level.

After all, they enable both the educator and the student to become aware of gaps in their knowledge or understanding during a time when action can still be taken to combat this. As a result of these intervention strategies, it's likely that they will then perform better in their final summative tests later in the year.

Formative evaluations can also help teachers to shape their curriculum around their students. For example, it could mean that they need to replan their lessons in order to reflect on previous classes or topics or set homework assignments that achieve the same goals.

As many students deal with exam-related anxiety (which ultimately affects their performance in summative tests), formative evaluations may actually be a more effective way to assess their progress, competency and capabilities.

While both of the above evaluation methods have their benefits, it's clear that the best way to assess students is a combination of both formative and summative assessments.

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