We are all familiar with the type of assessment which leads to the award of a grade or mark. This is perhaps the type of assessment which comes to mind most quickly, and it is often referred to as “summative”. However, there are other types too, with different purposes, and some distinctions between them are outlined below:
This can be used as part of the course design process, whereby assessment of the prior learning and needs of the intake are used to adjust the initial delivery. It can also be used to direct prospective students to preparatory resources or support, as appropriate to their needs. In Higher Education though it is most commonly used in the recognition of prior learning, whether formal or informal. This form of assessment could become increasingly important in the 21st century, as a combination of factors including diversity of learning providers, demand for professional accreditation and the growth of lifelong learning lead to growing numbers of applicants with a wide range of previous education experience. For more about diagnostic assessment, see QAA 2013b, p. 4.
The University’s assessment and feedback policy uses the Quality Assurance Agency’s definition of formative assessment:
“Formative assessment has a developmental purpose and is designed to help learners learn more effectively by giving them feedback on their performance and on how it can be improved and/or maintained. Reﬂective practice by students sometimes contributes to formative assessment.” (QAA, 2012b, p. 5)
The University’s assessment and feedback policy uses the Quality Assurance Agency’s definition of summative assessment:
“Summative assessment is used to indicate the extent of a learner's success in meeting the assessment criteria used to gauge the intended learning outcomes of a module or programme.” (QAA, 2012b, p. 5).
The two types listed above are often also referred to as assessment for learning (formative) and assessment of learning (summative). While this distinction helps to highlight two important purposes of the assessment process, it is to some extent a false dichotomy. Summative assessment tasks should always include a formative element, helping the student to understand what has been learned as well as what is still to be learned - otherwise, it is a “wasted opportunity” (Race et al., 2005, p3). There is also evidence to suggest that alignment between formative and summative tasks can have a positive impact on achievement, by enhancing understanding of expectations and standards (Jessop et al., 2014, p. 78).
tasks are valued by students when they are clearly linked to summative assessment. Evidence that formative assessment enhances understanding of “goals and standards”.
Self- and Peer-assessment
“Students must be effective self-assessors; to be anything less is to be dangerously ill-prepared to cope with change” (Boud 2000, p. 160)
In the development of academic judgement and lifelong learning skills, self-assessment is a vital part of the picture. To be successful both within and beyond the classroom, students need to have a good understanding of expectations and standards, and the skills and confidence to apply these to their own work; recognising success and shortfalls, and planning for further development. Many learners will have internal impressions of their own progress while working on an assignment, but, as Nicol observes, “students differ in their degree of awareness of such processes, many of which are tacit” (Nicol 2009, p. 14).
Development of these skills is a vital part of the higher education process of moving towards independent enquiry and self regulation, and is embedded in the University’s “learning to learn” key skill. Through the inclusion of structured self-assessment tasks and engagement with criteria and standards, “awareness can be raised and the generation of inner feedback strengthened”, enabling students to become better assessors of their own work (Nicol, ibid).
Similar skills can be developed through the inclusion of peer assessment activities. Peer assessment also requires a sound understanding of assessment criteria and academic judgement; in fact it has been argued that “producing feedback is more cognitively demanding than just receiving it: the construction of feedback is likely to heighten significantly the level of student engagement, analysis and reflection with feedback processes.” (Nicol 2010, p. 514)
In addition to this, peer assessment requires an understanding of feedback as a learning process, and an idea of what constitutes constructive and useful feedback. Peer assessment can be a formal, structured process, using rubrics for example, or it can be an informal one - even as simple as raising an idea with a group of peers for discussion. Rehearsing this process of giving and receiving constructive feedback in a low risk environment (e.g. in low-stakes or formative assessment) encourages students to become active seekers and users of feedback from a range of sources, and prepares them for future learning, which often occurs through participation in communities rather than through direct acquisition or teaching (Boud and Falchikov, 2006). For more ideas on self and peer assessment activities, see Race 2007, pp. 85-92.