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Formative assessment in higher education: Moves towards theory and the enhancement of pedagogic practice

Original Content Publication Date: 06/01/2003


The importance of formative assessment in student learning is generally acknowledged, but it is not well understood across higher education. Formative assessment is often more complex than it first appears. It can be formal or informal, performed by peers or by educators. The central purpose of formative assessment is to contribute to student learning through the provision of information about performance, as opposed to summative assessment whose purpose is to find out what a student knows. 

The following points can help you transform your feedback from summative to formative:
  • Convergent vs. Divergent Assessments
    • Divergent assessments, where students are able to come to multiple conclusions, are more effective in formative assessment than convergent assessments, where students are required to come to one conclusion
  • Speed of Feedback
    • The more quickly feedback is received, the more the formative affect of the feedback is amplified. 
For more discussion on the theory of formative assessment, see the link below.

Key Points

  • Formative assessment helps students to understand the standards required of them
  • The act of formative assessment can be a benefit to educators in helping them to more readily see what their students are struggling with
  • Formative assessment's value has been shown repeatedly but is not widely used because of the focus of most institutions on the more reportable summative assessment.


 Link to original article


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