Formative / Summative Assessment

“[Assessment] shapes the experience of students and influences their behaviour more than the teaching they receive”  (Bloxham 2007:3).

Summative assessment is necessary. Employers and professions require it, students want it, and it provides value and self-esteem in educational experiences (Boud and Falchikov, 2007). But its high-stakes nature means there is more pressure to succeed and consequently more stress for students. Passing a test can become more important than learning and understanding the discipline or the module content. The complex world of priorities, concerns and distractions that students face today means that assessment drives their learning priorities. Therefore, the notion that all assessment must be summative in order for students to engage with learning has become an entrenched view in higher education. This ‘arms race’ (Harland et al, 2015) is frustrating for both teachers and students.

However, more recent thinking has emphasised the value of formative assessment. Rebalancing the shift in priority more towards formative can decrease students’ stress, and rebalances teachers’ workload towards creating meaningful learning experiences. Moreover, it provides opportunities to practice and rehearse  as well as to experiment with ways of learning in a lower-stakes environment. It also provides much more opportunities for rich informal feedback, which is less useful with summative assessment when the student has obtained a grade for a particular task, often weeks after the module has finished and has little opportunity to use it for the next, perhaps quite different, assessment. Formative assessment need not increase the burden on teachers’ marking time.

This section provides a variety of resources for assessment mapping and evaluating the balance of formative and summative assessment patterns in your modules and programmes.