How can I balance assessment patterns?

You can look at the assessment mapping resource for how to conduct a simple pattern mapping overview of your programmes and modules. This will make evident the balance or imbalance of formative and summative.

Essential considerations

  • Ensure formative practice in some way for each summative assessment. This does not have to increase marking loads (see Formal and Informal feedback in this resource).
  • Ensure that you don’t overload students with too many diverse types of assessment, either formative or summative. The principles of AfL emphasise practice and opportunities to become familiar with performance standards. This can’t happen if students are doing too many different types of assessment, and they can become more stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Always try to consider the wider picture of where modules sit in the programme structure before introducing new assessments.
  • Consider trialling proposed summative assessments as formative in the year before. This is not always possible for many reasons but is considered good assessment practice. This can iron out any issues and builds a stronger case for adopting new assessment amongst colleagues and at PDAC level.
  • Try not to think of students ‘liking’ a particular assessment as a primary concern. Students might not ‘like’ an assessment initially if they are unfamiliar with it or find it more challenging or hard to adopt surface approaches.  Talk to them about rationale and seek feedback on what can be improved but generally the real complaints come from students when they perceive as assessment as unfair, not useful or not intellectually challenging.

Common problems and measures to alleviate them

A small number of highly-weighted summative assessments…

  • Reduce the weighting of existing summative and add a more diverse range of summative assessments.

And / or

  • Add more formative assessment to enable practice for existing summative


  • Enhance the formative potential of summative assessment by  providing more opportunities for practice

Too many summative assessments…

  • Reduce the number of assessments in a module by evaluating what skills and knowledge are already being covered elsewhere in the programme.


  • Increase the weightings of existing summative and/or make some formative.

Formative and summative assessments are not aligned…

  • Consider making the formative more directly relevant to the summative. Students are less likely to put effort into formative assessments if they cannot see how they will help them with the summative (e.g. formative presentations and summative essays).
  • If you value the skills and knowledge tested in the formative assessments, consider making them low-weighted summative or mandatory for completion but ungraded.
  • Consider weighting assessments that test a range of complex skills and requirements more highly.

Assessments do not adequately meet the learning outcomes of the module…

  • Browse this site for types of assessments which meet your learning outcomes based on the principles of Assessment for Learning.
  • Talk to members of your department and faculty about examples of good practice.
  • Raise these issues with module or programme teams
  • Talk to students about a better means of assessment. Thinking of students as partners or co-creators is a core ethos of the King’s Education Strategy. You might be surprised that students are not just interested in the easy option, but in the most useful, fair and intellectually engaging one.