Key research findings about formative assessment

Formative assessment has a significant impact on learning, as much as 1 or 2 grades on GCSE* results.

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

(This seminal article was a meta-survey of over 250 publications linking assessment and learning.)

Students can achieve learning goals when they (a) understand the goals, (b) feel like those goals are personal goals, and (c) can evaluate their own progress during courses.

Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18, 119-144.

Formative assessment promotes effective learning and raises the quality of teaching.

Black. P, Harrison. C, Lee. C, Marshall. B, William, D. (2003). Assessment for Learning: Putting it into practice. Oxford University Press.

Learning gains from formative assessment are disproportionately greater for less-able students.

Assessment Reform Group (2002). Assessment for learning – 10 principles: Research-based principles to guide classroom practice. ARG/Nuffield Foundation.

Formative assessment encourages students to take an active role in the management of their own learning.

Juwah, C. et al. (2004) Enhancing Student Learning Through Effective Feedback. The Higher Education Academy.

Purely formative assessment, with no summative standard measurement, is ineffective.

Smith, E. & Gorard, S. (2005). ‘They don’t give us our marks’: The role of formative feedback in student progress. Assessment in Education, 12(1), 21-38.

*GCSE = General Certificate of Secondary Education in England, Wales & Northern Ireland

The formative and summative assessment disambiguator

Assessment for learning

Assessment of  learning

Also known as…

Formative assessment

Summative assessment


To  diagnose student difficulties in reaching learning objectives; To identify student strengths that can be built upon; To inform future learning and teaching.To measure and summarise student achievement of learning objectives in the form of grades; To inform selection procedures for, e.g. promotion, entrance to higher education, employment.


Formal or informal (ad hoc)



Prior to / During school term

During / At end of school term








Specific, qualitative feedback in the form of evaluative comments on performance or   highlighted descriptors on a criteria marking scheme.  Students are provided with constructive and concrete advice on how to improve, time and opportunities for further development and practice. Scores   may be given to show students the result they would have achieved in a ‘real’ test, but the scores do not contribute to grades. Students should absorb teachers’ comments fully before seeing scores.Feedback is optional. If the students are going to do a similar test/exam in future,   then feedback could serve a formative purpose. If the test/exam content is the last time they will be tested on this, then of course no feedback, just grades. If the summative assessment is criterion-referenced, then students can refer to the   criteria marking scheme to understand what the grade implies about their   capabilities, but there is nothing they can do to change their grade.

Feedback providers

Self / Peers / Teacher

Teacher / Examiner

Understanding learning goals

Enhances student understanding of learning objectives, criteria, standards, etc.Merely checks student ability to meet learning objectives