Difference Between Formative & Summative Evaluations

Updated April 14, 2017

Formative and summative evaluations are both given to students of all ages. Each type of assessment provides its own set of data designed to aid teacher planning, assist in lesson planning and provide feedback on student knowledge. Knowing the difference between the two types of evaluations allows parents and educators to understand and make better use of the results from both types of tests.


Formative assessments are assessments that take place as part of the classroom routine, and may be given at any point. Formative evaluations may be used before a teacher starts a unit to see what base knowledge students have and what areas should be reviewed before a new topic is introduced; in the middle of a unit to ensure that students are comprehending the material and to target challenging concepts that may need to be retaught; or near the end of a unit of study to help students determine what information they should review before a unit exam. In most cases, students are not graded on their progress on a formative assessment, but instead they may be involved in grading their assessments and should receive feedback about their results. Formative assessments are often short quizzes or student questionnaires and typically do not consume much classroom time.


Summative evaluations are exams that are given periodically, typically at the end of a unit, semester or school year, and provide information about student learning gains. Summative assessments provide feedback about program and teacher effectiveness as well as data about student knowledge. Summative assessments, such as end-of-unit tests, help teachers determine student comprehension, grading and placement levels, while assessments such as standardised tests or year-end exams ensure that students comprehend all required material and that teachers and instructional programs have been successful in preparing students for the next level. Students do not always receive feedback on summative evaluations and are generally not included in the grading of these assessments. Summative assessments typically take longer to complete than formative evaluations, with some standardised tests taking several days of classroom time to complete.


Formative and summative evaluations both have a place in most classrooms, as they each serve a distinct purpose. Formative assessments provide feedback to the student and the teacher about student growth and understanding, and summative assessments provide an overview of student learning gains through the course of a year or teaching unit. Using both types of assessments allows teachers to get a broader understanding of the needs of each student in the classroom and to determine appropriate teaching strategies to match student needs.

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About the Author

Based in Florida, Mandi Titus has been writing since 2002. Her articles have been published on sites such as Goodkin, Go Green Street and Living the Healthy Way. She holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Stetson University.