Difference Between Formative and Summative assessment

Formative vs Summative assessment

Assessment of students’ performance after a learning period in which a teacher explains study material is very commonplace in schools these days. In fact, assessment is considered essential to judge the learning graph and to devise further study material. Two types of assessment processes that are in vogue are formative assessment and summative assessment. There are differences between these two methods that need to be highlighted to be better able to appreciate the impact of these assessment processes.

As a principal or the administrator of a school, it is vital to keep on assessing the amount of information retained by students in a classroom teaching atmosphere. One way to check it, is through student led conferences where, students share all that they have learnt with each other in a very informal manner. Such an interaction between students, with teachers remaining mute spectators, gives a fair assessment of the success or failure of teaching methods plus an inkling of how effective formative and summative assessment practices have been in knowing what students have grasped from their teachers.

Assessment is the basis of all information, and benchmarking of students. The more and better this information is, the better we learn about achievement levels of students. Both formative as well as summative assessment practices have been in vogue for the last few decades but it is a delicate balance between the two that is necessary to have a clearer, more objective, and realistic assessment student achievement in a classroom.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessments are like weekly tests or quizzes and are given periodically to determine what students know and what they do not know at a particular point of time. These tests have gained much importance and the marks obtained in these tests are given weightage while deciding upon the rank of the students at the end of the academic year. Though, the importance of such type of assessment cannot be underestimated, they help in evaluation of certain aspects of the learning process only. However, their timing is not right and it appears that summative assessment takes place too far down the learning path that does not allow for instructional adjustments and interventions during the learning process. This is where formative assessment comes into picture.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessments are more flexible in the sense that they allow for changes to be made in the instructional patterns and also in the manner of interventions to rectify any learning deficiencies during the learning process. The teachers get to know about the level of understanding of the students which is timely and allows for adjustments to be made. It is these adjustments that allow certain students to achieve goals that have been set for a particular classroom.

Though it is hard to differentiate between formative and summative assessments on the basis of the content, it is easy to differentiate by treating formative assessment as a type of practice rather than evaluating a child on the basis of his performance in such tests. This implies that students are not given grades and ranks in class on the basis of their performance in these tests and it is prudent to let students rectify their mistakes and enhance their understanding with any undue pressure of performance. This also gives breathing space to the teacher before summative assessment approaches. However, it is important to make students accountable for their performance in some way, or they do not take much interest in this type of testing as they think that their grades are not going to be affected even if they take formative assessment casually. The best way to ensure this is to give a descriptive feedback to students rather than grades.


In the end, it would be fair to say that though formative assessment provides time to teachers and students to rectify their mistakes and thus enhances learning, summative assessment is also important as it serves the purpose of a milestone in the learning curve of students. As such it is prudent to have a delicate balance between the two types of assessments for better and effective classroom teaching.