top of page

Assessing pupils ‘learning: What are the differences between Summative and Formative Assessments

Summative assessment

Summative assessment sums up what a pupil has achieved at the end of a period of time, relative to the learning aims and the relevant national standards. The period of time may vary, depending on what the teacher wants to find out. There may be an assessment at the end of a topic, at the end of a term or half-term, at the end of a year or, as in the case of the national curriculum tests, at the end of a key stage.

A summative assessment may be a written test, an observation, a conversation or a task. It may be recorded through writing, through photographs or other visual media, or through an audio recording. Whichever medium is used, the assessment will show what has been achieved. It will summarise attainment at a particular point in time and may provide individual and cohort data that will be useful for tracking progress and for informing stakeholders (e.g. parents)

Formative assessment

Formative assessment takes place on a day-to-day basis during teaching and learning, allowing teachers and pupils to assess attainment and progress more frequently. It begins with diagnostic assessment, indicating what is already known and what gaps may exist in skills or knowledge. If a teacher and pupil understand what has been achieved to date, it is easier to plan the next steps. As the learning continues, further formative assessments indicate whether teaching plans need to be amended to reinforce or extend learning.