Formative Vs. Summative Assessment

Updated July 19, 2017

You can see the difference between formative and summative assessments in their names. A formative assessment assists the teacher in forming new lessons, while a summative assessment comes at the end of a lesson, semester or year for a summary of what the student has learnt.


Formative assessments include diagnostic pretests, essays, review games, quizzes, classroom observation, lab reports, anecdotal records or performance tasks. Summative assessments are standards-based tests, such as end of unit exams, national and state standardised tests, and college entrance exams such as the SAT.

Formative Data

Formative assessments show students' strengths and weaknesses. Teachers use this data to plan strong lessons or modify strategies that are not working, while students use the results as a sign of their progress.

Summative Data

By monitoring predetermined competencies, summative assessments show the effectiveness of an academic program or class, and growth trends of individual students and entire classes.

Formative Assessment Use

Formative assessments typically count as practice, not graded work. As the student learns, he and the teacher should use his data to monitor his achievements.

Summative Assessment Use

Course grades should be determined primarily through summative data from unit tests. Schools use summative assessments to set and assess school improvement goals and determine student schedules.

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About the Author

Based in central Florida, J. Jeremy Dean has written for 16 years and has written news and entertainment articles for "The Daily Commercial" in Leesburg, Fla. In 2002, he won the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors award for criticism. Dean holds a professional writing bachelor's degree from Glenville State College and a master's of education degree from National Louis University.