Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment


Formative assessment continuously monitors students’ learning and provides ongoing feedback in order to improve instruction and learning. It serves the purpose of assessment FOR learning.

Summative assessment measures students’ proficiency and certifies learning. It serves the purpose of assessment OF learning.

To clarify more, here’s a table of comparison between formative and summative assessment.

Formative assessment Summative assessment
  • assessment for learning
  • assessment of learning
  • occurs during instruction or throughout the teaching-learning process
  • occurs after  instruction

(at the end of instructional period like academic quarter, semester, trimester, school year, etc.)

  • monitors/tracks the students’ progress throughout the entire teaching-learning process
  • certifies or provides proof of students’ learning
  • provides ongoing/continuous feedback to help teachers improve instruction and help students to improve their learning
  • adjusts teaching and learning during the entire process
  • measures what the students know and what they don’t know; measures what and how well the  students have learned
  • evaluates students’ competencies relative to set learning outcomes; determines students’ achievements; determines whether the students are successful in achieving learning outcomes; determines if learning goals have been met
  • helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses and address them appropriately
  • helps students monitor their own progress
  • helps students achieve targeted standards
  • encourages the students to study more or exert more effort in order to achieve targeted standards
  • helps determine if the instructional programs are effective
  • helps teachers identify students’ needs, problem-areas and learning gaps, and tackle/resolve them immediately
  • provides information for instructional improvements/refinements
  • helps the teachers gauge and validate if the instructional methods and materials are effective; helps them determine what  needs to be refined, deleted or added
  • can determine grades; students’ future educational and career paths
  • can be used for accreditation
  • can serve as a guide in designing curriculum and instruction
  • can tell which areas have been mastered by students and which areas need more work
  • enables teachers to compare students’ performances/ competencies against  specific standards and against  other students
  • enables teachers to rank students
  • continuous observations of students in the classroom; is integrated in classroom instruction/practice
  • is disconnected from actual classroom practice
  • one assessment cannot measure full content and hence only those that can easily be measured are oftentimes included in the assessment
  • focus is on practice/process
  • focus in on the product or the result
  • low stakes
  • not graded
  • students are motivated to be more adventurous, more creative, explore more hence learn more because no grade is at stake
  • high stakes
  • graded
  • can cause anxieties because results are final and cannot be changed, students therefore play safe, stops to be creative, just answer the way they are expected to answer for fear of committing mistakes
  • should be engaging;
  • should be inherently rewarding, more interesting such that students will be motivated more
  • should be clear to students how it is related to the learning goals
  • should be interactive and cyclical
  • should be clearly aligned with objectives and outcome
  • should be valid and reliable
  • helps determine the next steps during the learning process
  • determines quality of teaching/instruction/school
  • is an accountability measure
  • helps evaluate effectiveness of the program, school’s goals, alignment of curriculum, student placement

  • observations
  • anecdotal records
  • concept map
  • research proposal (for feedback)
  • quizzes
  • home work
  • worksheets
  • performance tasks
  • essays
  • observations
  • questioning strategies
  • projects
  • graphic organizers
  • self-assessments/ peer assessment
  • collaborative activities
  • portfolios (collection of student work)

  • final performance tasks
  • final papers/written outputs
  • final oral presentations
  • standardized tests
  • end of unit tests or projects
  • recitals
  • long exams
  • periodical tests
  • final exams

Formal and informal assessments can either be formative or summative.

Likewise, traditional and alternative/authentic assessments can either be formative or summative.

Assessments can either be formative or summative depending on how assessment data is interpreted. It is formative when used to improve instruction and learning during the entire teaching-learning process; summative if used to gauge student’s overall achievement and measure what the students have learned at the end of instructional unit.

Even summative assessments can be utilized formatively when used to guide instruction and help improve learning.

Formative and summative assessments refer not to METHODS, but rather to INTERPRETATIONS of assessment data. A single assessment can be considered as either formative or summative depending on how the assessment data is interpreted to serve its intended purpose.


Bilash, Bio Olenka. (2011). Summative assessment. Retrieved from

Eberly Center. What is the difference between formative and summative assessment? Retrieved from

Education Service Australia. Formative use of summative assessment. Retrieved from

Rona, Amanda. (2015). Every Teacher’s Guide to Assessment. Retrieved from