Formative Assessment

In-process evaluation

What is a formative assessment?

Formative assessment refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. Formative assessments help teachers identify concepts that students are struggling to understand, skills they are having difficulty acquiring, or learning standards they have not yet achieved so that adjustments can be made to lessons, instructional techniques, and academic support.

Advantages/Disadvantages of Formative Assessment


Formative assessments are not graded, which takes the anxiety away from students. It also detaches the thinking that they must get everything right. Instead, they serve as a practice for students to get assistance along the way before the final tests. Teachers usually check for understanding in the event that students are struggling during the lesson. Teachers address these issues early on instead of waiting until the end of the unit to assess. Teachers have to do less reteaching at the end because many of the problems with mastery are addressed before final tests.


Some teachers complain about sacrificing time to assess during the lesson and fear that they may not even finish the lesson. Teachers then feel the need to rush through a series of units, which causes students to lack mastery once the assessment is given at the end of the unit. Teachers may lack training or professional development on how to use formative assessments successfully because, historically, assessments are completed at the end. Formative assessment may lack the same weight -- low to no point value -- as a summative assessment, and students may not take the assessments seriously, which may cause teachers to misread feedback from students.

Examples of Formative Assessments


Formative assessments include summarizing techniques, where teachers can guide students through their thought patterns. Graphic organizers are also used to help students organize their work to master lessons. Collaborative learning activities allow students to work together in groups as they develop and demonstrate their understanding of concepts.


  • Questions that teachers pose to individual students and groups of students during the learning process to determine what specific concepts or skills they may be having trouble with. A wide variety of intentional questioning strategies may be employed, such as phrasing questions in specific ways to elicit more useful responses.
  • Specific, detailed, and constructive feedback that teachers provide on student work , such as journal entries, essays, worksheets, research papers, projects, ungraded quizzes, lab results, or works of art, design, and performance. The feedback may be used to revise or improve a work product, for example.
  • “Exit slips” or “exit tickets” that quickly collect student responses to a teacher’s questions at the end of a lesson or class period. Based on what the responses indicate, the teacher can then modify the next lesson to address concepts that students have failed to comprehend or skills they may be struggling with. “Admit slips” are a similar strategy used at the beginning of a class or lesson to determine what students have retained from previous learning experiences.
  • Self-assessments that ask students to think about their own learning process, to reflect on what they do well or struggle with, and to articulate what they have learned or still need to learn to meet course expectations or learning standards.
  • Peer assessments that allow students to use one another as learning resources. For example, “workshopping” a piece of writing with classmates is one common form of peer assessment, particularly if students follow a rubric or guidelines provided by a teacher.