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Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on December 3, 2023
Formative Assessment gauges learning progress during instruction. Summative Assessment evaluates comprehension at a unit or course's conclusion.
Formative Assessment vs. Summative Assessment — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Formative Assessment and Summative Assessment


Key Differences

Formative Assessment is an ongoing process, used by educators to modify teaching and learning activities in real-time. It provides feedback during the instructional process, helping to shape and refine student understanding. On the other hand, Summative Assessment happens after a set period or course completion, giving a holistic view of a student's grasp on the content.
Formative Assessment is characterized by its informality and flexibility. It can be as simple as a verbal question or a quick quiz. It's essentially diagnostic, helping to identify areas of strength and weakness. In contrast, Summative Assessment is more structured and formal, like final exams or standardized tests, reflecting the culmination of learning objectives.
While the primary goal of Formative Assessment is to inform instruction and provide feedback, it is not always graded or included in a student's final mark. Summative Assessment, conversely, results in a grade or score representing a student's performance against predetermined standards.
Formative Assessment supports learning through immediate feedback, guiding students to adjust their strategies or fill gaps in understanding. Summative Assessment, however, offers a retrospective look at learning, summarizing the student's achievements at the end of an instructional period.
The tools and methods for Formative Assessment can vary widely, from classroom discussions to journals. Summative Assessment, in contrast, often involves standardized tools and methods, ensuring that all students are evaluated based on the same criteria.

Comparison Chart


During instruction
End of instruction/unit


Feedback and adjustment
Evaluate overall comprehension




Not always graded
Typically results in a grade


Classroom discussions, quizzes
Final exams, standardized tests

Compare with Definitions

Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment is often informal and can be spontaneous.
In the middle of her lecture, Ms. Green used a Formative Assessment to check student comprehension.

Summative Assessment

Summative Assessment is a formal method of measuring learning outcomes.
The state-mandated Summative Assessment ensured consistent evaluation standards.

Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment aids in adapting teaching to meet student needs.
After a Formative Assessment, Mr. Lee introduced more hands-on activities for better understanding.

Summative Assessment

Summative Assessment offers a retrospective overview of student achievements.
Sarah reviewed her Summative Assessment results to understand her academic strengths.

Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment is a diagnostic tool shaping instructional methods.
A quick Formative Assessment showed Jane she should review the topic with her class once more.

Summative Assessment

Summative Assessment often results in a grade or score.
Students anxiously awaited their Summative Assessment grades, marking their course completion.

Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment helps educators identify areas of improvement during instruction.
Through Formative Assessment, Mr. Thompson realized some concepts needed reteaching.

Summative Assessment

Summative Assessment provides a comprehensive review of content comprehension.
John scored well on the Summative Assessment, indicating a strong grasp of the material.

Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment monitors student learning to provide ongoing feedback.
Mrs. Clark used a Formative Assessment to adjust her teaching strategies based on student responses.

Summative Assessment

Summative Assessment evaluates student learning at the end of an instructional unit.
At the semester's close, students took a Summative Assessment covering all topics.

Common Curiosities

Is Formative Assessment always graded?

No, Formative Assessment isn't always graded; its primary goal is feedback.

What's the main objective of Formative Assessment?

Formative Assessment aims to provide ongoing feedback during instruction to shape learning.

When is Summative Assessment typically conducted?

Summative Assessment occurs at the end of an instructional unit or course.

Are standardized tests considered Summative Assessments?

Yes, standardized tests are a form of Summative Assessment, measuring learning against set standards.

Can Formative Assessment be spontaneous?

Absolutely, Formative Assessment can be on-the-spot checks of student understanding.

Does Summative Assessment always result in a grade?

Typically, yes. Summative Assessment often culminates in a grade or score.

How does Summative Assessment's purpose differ?

Summative Assessment evaluates overall comprehension at the conclusion of an instructional period.

Can Formative Assessment be informal?

Yes, Formative Assessment is often informal, like classroom discussions or quick checks.

Are quizzes considered Formative Assessments?

Quizzes can be Formative Assessments if used for feedback during instruction, but they can also be summative if used to grade comprehension at the end.

How can teachers use Formative Assessment in daily instruction?

Teachers can use Formative Assessment to adjust teaching methods based on immediate student feedback.

What's a primary benefit of Summative Assessment?

Summative Assessment provides a holistic view of student comprehension over a set period.

Which is more flexible: Formative Assessment or Summative Assessment?

Formative Assessment is typically more flexible, adapting to ongoing instructional needs.

Why is feedback crucial in Formative Assessment?

Feedback in Formative Assessment guides students and teachers, refining understanding and instruction.

Can Summative Assessment shape future instruction?

Yes, while Summative Assessment evaluates past learning, its results can inform future instructional planning.

How comprehensive is Summative Assessment?

Summative Assessment is comprehensive, evaluating a student's grasp on an entire instructional unit or course.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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