Inside the Classroom

What’s Up With… Formative and Summative Assessment?

There are many different assessment methods out there for evaluating student progress. Two of the most common types of assessments are formative and summative. But what is the difference between these two? Is there a “winner” in the battle between formative and summative assessment? Which one is best for assessing your students? It turns out that the two methods are actually rather complementary when it comes to assessing student progress.

What is Formative Assessment?

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor students’ performance to provide ongoing feedback that instructors can use to improve and adjust their teaching methods (and that students can use to improve their learning).

A formative assessment is often low-stakes and ungraded. It’s mainly used to help teachers understand how students are making progress toward an end goal.

What is Summative Assessment?

The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate students’ learning, mastery, and achievement at the end of a defined period of time by comparing it against a universal standard or school benchmark. A defined period of time might mean the end of a project, unit, term, semester, or year.

Summative assessments often have a high point value, are marked by a letter grade, and take place under controlled conditions.

What Are the Main Differences?




Evaluates progress:

During the learning process

After the learning process

Assessment goal:

Monitor performance and improve learning

Evaluate achievement and (usually) assign grades

Time of occurrence:

Frequent and ongoing throughout instruction

At the end of a defined period of time (unit, semester, year, etc.)

Classroom Examples of Formative and Summative Assessment


  • Self-assessment
  • Lesson “exit tickets” to summarize what students learned that day
  • Collaboration and discussion with other students
  • Mind maps or graphic organizers


  • End-of-year or mid-term exams
  • End-of-unit or -chapter tests
  • Cumulative work over an extended period, such as a final project or creative portfolio
  • Standardized tests (like SAT, ACT, etc.)

How Can Formative and Summative Assessments Work Together?

Both types of assessments are important to evaluating student progress as well as the effectiveness of educational institutions and programs. Therefore, they can work side by side to assess learning.

Throughout the year, formative assessments can be used to help teachers understand how their students are learning and progressing, and they can then adjust their instruction to personalize learning for each student. At the end of a term, semester, and/or year, summative assessments can help educators see where students end up.

For more information about and examples of formative and summative assessment, as well as diagnostic assessment, check out Edudemic’s detailed resource.

While both types of assessments can be used to assess student progress, formative assessment has been in high demand lately for its power to collect information about what students are learning while they’re learning it. Many people believe that teachers should then use what they learned about performance to adjust their instruction to meet students’ needs. Implementing adaptive learning is one way to help both teachers and students find success because it responds to students in real time with individualized instruction and tailored feedback.

Implementing competency-based learning is another great way to help teachers and students find success because it focuses on ensuring students are truly mastering academic content regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. Using formative assessments in conjunction with competency-based learning can help you to pinpoint learning gaps and identify the students who may need additional instructional supports before they ever have an opportunity to fall behind their classmates!


Renard, L. (2017, April 14). The differences between formative and summative assessment – Infographic. BookWidgets. Retrieved from

ResourcEd. (2018, January 9). Types of summative assessment and formative assessment. Retrieved from

Ronan, A. (2015, April 29). Every teacher’s guide to assessment. Edudemic. Retrieved from

About the Author


Ashleigh Lutz

Ashleigh graduated from Arizona State University with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She spent over three years in higher education developing resources and helping students succeed in online courses. During her tenure at Edgenuity, Ashleigh was eager to support Where Learning Clicks and the team’s commitment to helping teachers and students meet important goals and explore their passions. In addition to writing, a few of Ashleigh’s favorite things include rock climbing, chocolate, and cats.