Use Both Formative and Summative Assessments

Summative assessments

Summative assessments evaluate student’s mastery of material at the end of a module or course. These include end-of-course or end-of-unit exams, final papers, or projects.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments provide students with feedback on their performance with time to improve. They may be ungraded or for a small number of points to incentivize students to participate. These include any assignments or activities that students engage in that provide them with feedback on their attainment of a transparent standard. They also inform the instructor of the level of student comprehension on particular learning aims.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are a collection of formative assessments to consider using in your teaching. CATs are designed to provide both the instructor and the students with feedback on their performance. This provides students with valuable information on which knowledge and skills they need to work on going forward.

A pie with three pieces connected by arrows indicating the three steps of students taking an assessment, instructor grading an assessment, and the instructor giving feedback to students

There are 3 steps to using CATs as formative assessments:

  1. Administer the CAT to all students.
  2. Assess and analyze student answers.
  3. Provide students with feedback on their performance.

Resource document: A list of formative assessments with descriptions you might consider using in your course.

Formative assessments should support summative assessments. Create formative assessments in your course to help prepare students (provide them practice with feedback) for your summative assessments.


Below is an example of formative assessments structured for supporting a position paper that serves as a summative assessment in a course. Students receive feedback on the first 2 formative assessments to ensure they develop the skills needed for writing the final paper.

Formative assessments can be planned around summative assessments and mapped to an overall course assessment plan.

Formative assessment #1 is an activity on evaluating quality of different information sources, formative assessment #2 is a short writing assignment on taking and supporting a position and the summative assessment is a final position paper on a controversial topic.


Learn more about formative assessments and how to use them in this 6-minute video.