What is Formative Assessment?

  • Formative assessment is the use of day-to-day, often informal, assessments to explore pupils’ understanding.
  • It enables the teacher to decide how best to help pupils develop that understanding.

Any assessment can be used formatively and it’s important to distinguish between the process of formative assessment and the actual assessments used by teachers. Making this distinction is crucial because a common misinterpretation of formative assessment is that a series of summative assessments constitutes formative assessment.

This is very much not the case; what makes an assessment formative is what the teacher does with the information it generates. Unless the result of the assessment is used to change something in the teaching or learning, there is nothing formative taking place. It should be noted that assessments can often be used for both formative and summative purposes.

Formative and summative are not labels for different types or forms of assessment but describe how assessments are used. For example, a task or activity is not formative unless the information it provides is actually used to progress learning.