The ultimate guide to formative assessment: 16 examples, and tips for students and tutors

Formative assessment is a critical part of the learning process. Unlike summative assessments, which evaluate student understanding at the end of a course, formative assessments provide ongoing feedback during instruction.

Student assessing on his laptop

For students, formative assessment is key to learning more effectively and achieving academic success. For tutors and teachers, it’s an indispensable tool for gauging student comprehension, tailoring teaching methods, and improving learning outcomes.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what formative assessment is, why it matters, and provide over 15 concrete examples you can use in any educational setting. Whether you’re a student looking to take charge of your learning or an educator wanting to enhance your instruction, this guide will give you the knowledge and tools to integrate formative assessments seamlessly.

Let’s get started!

What is formative assessment?

Formative assessment refers to the frequent, interactive assessments conducted during the learning process to identify student comprehension gaps, obstacles, and progress.

Unlike summative assessments, which evaluate learning after instruction, formative assessments occur throughout teaching and aim to improve learning in real-time.

Formative assessments can be formal or informal. They provide critical feedback for both students and educators to adjust ongoing teaching and learning activities.

Common Goals of Formative Assessment:

  • Monitor student understanding
  • Identify gaps in knowledge
  • Give students feedback they can use
  • Adjust instruction based on assessment data
  • Reinforce learning goals
  • Foster student self-assessment and reflection

Ultimately, formative assessment helps educators refine their teaching methods to facilitate better learning. It also enables students to improve their learning strategies and become self-directed learners.

Why is formative assessment important?

Many research studies highlight the benefits of formative assessment for both students and educators:

Benefits for students

  • Improves learning and academic achievement
  • Identifies strengths and weaknesses
  • Provides meaningful feedback
  • Develops self-assessment and reflection skills
  • Allows students to take ownership of learning
  • Promotes learner engagement and motivation
  • Reduces test anxiety
  • Closes learning gaps in real-time

Benefits for educators

  • Identifies learning gaps as they occur
  • Facilitates adjustment of teaching methods
  • Provides feedback to shape ongoing teaching
  • Allows tailoring instruction to student needs
  • Improves teaching practices over time
  • Fosters classroom dialogue and activity
  • Engages students in the learning process
  • Enables tracking of student progress
  • Reduces student failure and dropout rates

Clearly, formative assessment offers invaluable advantages for your learning and teaching success. Let’s look at 15+ examples you can start applying right away.

16 examples of formative assessments

A formative assessment in the relationship tutor-student

Here are over 15 formative assessment strategies and examples you can leverage as a student or educator:

1. Check for understanding

Frequently checking for understanding gives you instant insight into students’ comprehension. Some approaches:

  • Ask open-ended questions: “Why do you think that happened?”, “How would you summarize this concept?”
  • Use thumbs up/down or fist-to-five: Students signal comprehension with thumb or fingers.
  • Do quick reviews: Give a 1-minute review of recent concepts.
  • Use small dry-erase boards: Students write answers to demonstrate understanding.
  • Get students to explain concepts: Have students describe concepts in their own words or teach them to classmates.
  • Use exit tickets: At the end of class, have students submit a short response to gauge understanding.

2. Diagnostic assessments

Administer a pre-test at the start of a unit or course to gauge baseline understanding. This allows you to shape instruction based on actual student needs.

Example diagnostic assessments:

  • Content knowledge quizzes
  • Writing samples
  • Math skill tests
  • Reading comprehension tests
  • Student interest and perception surveys

3. Observation

Actively observe students during lessons. Notice facial expressions, body language, engagement levels, and responses. Address any visible signs of confusion or disengagement promptly.

4. Self-assessment

Have students evaluate their own understanding and track their progress. This develops meta-cognition and self-directed learning skills.

Example self-assessment methods:

  • Learning logs or journals
  • Self-reflection surveys
  • Goal-setting and monitoring progress
  • Identifying personal strengths and weaknesses

5. Peer and group assessment

Peer assessment activities like review and feedback of classwork promote collaborative learning. Group discussions also allow you to assess collective understanding.


  • Peer editing of essays or projects
  • Think-pair-share activities
  • Debate and discussion groups
  • Collaborative problem-solving

6. Student Response Systems

Using clickers, apps, or websites lets you collect real-time responses and data on student comprehension.

Popular tools include:

  • Kahoot
  • Poll Everywhere
  • Google Forms
  • Socrative
  • Classkick

7. Graphic organizers

Visual tools like concept maps, Venn diagrams, and plot graphs allow assessment of student understanding. Have students create graphic organizers or annotate pre-made templates.

8. One-minute papers

A one-minute paper is a short written response to a prompt designed to highlight comprehension. Ask students to summarize the day’s lesson or write about what they found most interesting.

9. Learning games

Incorporating games, simulations, and friendly competition fosters engagement. Use them to evaluate everything from facts to application of concepts.

Games like Kahoot and Quizlet Live allow you to track learning in real-time.

10. Homework and classwork

Review the work students do in class or at home. Identify areas of weakness to address via instruction or feedback.

11. Conferencing

One-on-one or small group conferences offer opportunities for conversation and feedback. Listen to student perspectives to gain insights into their learning experience.

12. Portfolios

Student portfolios demonstrate progress over time. Include a range of assignments, reflections, tests and projects showcasing skills and knowledge. Review regularly and provide feedback.

13. Concept mapping

Have students create visual representations of their understanding via concept maps showing relationships between ideas. Assess their ability to connect concepts.

14. Muddiest point

A “muddiest point” assessment asks students to reflect on what remains unclear or confusing to them. Use this to clarify muddy points through instruction.

15. Misconception check

Provide students with common misconceptions about a topic. Have them identify which are incorrect and explain why. This surfaces misunderstandings to address.

16. Student questioning

Encourage students to ask questions. The types of questions they ask provides clues about their level of understanding. Asking questions also engages them in learning.

As you can see, formative assessments come in many forms and flavors. Choose strategies aligned to your learning environment, needs, and resources. Mixing up a variety of formative assessment examples keeps engagement high.

Formative assessment in online learning environments

The rise of remote and hybrid learning makes formative assessment for online students vital. Here are some ways to integrate formative assessment digitally:

  • Virtual whiteboards like Jamboard for collaboration and annotating concepts
  • Online exit tickets at the end of virtual lessons
  • Digital self-assessments and reflections via forms or learning management systems
  • Discussion boards to assess participation and understanding
  • Online learning games like Kahoot and Quizizz
  • Polling and surveys through software like Mentimeter and Poll Everywhere
  • Digital graphic organizers using web tools like Coggle and Lucidchart
  • Screencasting for video feedback and comments
  • Virtual student conferences via video chat

The key is using technology to get the same insight into student learning you would in-person. Maintain an open channel for giving and receiving feedback.

Tips for students on making the most of formative assessment

How can you leverage formative assessment to maximize your learning and success as a student? Here are some pro tips:

📝Actively participate in all formative assessments. Treat them as learning opportunities, not merely evaluations.

🧠Use feedback from assessments to improve your work and fill knowledge gaps.

📈Track your progress with data from quizzes, papers, test results, and other measures.

🗺️Identify patterns in the types of errors you make to focus your learning efforts.

💭Reflect critically on your learning using self-assessment tools like journals.

🙋🏻♀️Ask questions if assessments show you need more help or clarification.

🤝Give peer feedback constructively – this enhances your own understanding.

🎯Stay focused on formative assessment goals: to improve, not just to perform.

Formative assessment creates an invaluable feedback loop to help you achieve learning objectives and reach your academic potential. Use it to your advantage!

Tips for tutors and teachers on implementing formative assessments

For tutors and teachers, here are some best practices for integrating formative assessments successfully:

1. Set clear goals

What concepts, skills or knowledge do you want to assess? Setting goals keeps assessments focused and useful.

2. Vary assessment types

Use a diverse mix of formal and informal assessments to keep engagement high.

3. Ask probing questions

Well-crafted questions yield greater insights into student understanding. Go beyond surface-level.

4. Provide timely feedback

Give students prompt verbal and written feedback they can use to improve.

5. Track progress

Collect performance data over time to evaluate instructional effectiveness.

6. Adjust your teaching

Use assessment findings to shape your methods, activities, and future assessments.

7. Model how to assess

Demonstrate self-assessment practices students can apply on their own.

8. Make it engaging

Assessments shouldn’t just test understanding but enhance it. Incorporate play, collaboration, and activity.

9. Prioritize frequently

Don’t just use long tests. Short, low-stakes assessments at regular intervals maximize impact.

With some planning, formative assessment can seamlessly integrate into your existing routines. Be purposeful about using data to enhance both teaching and learning.

Frequently asked questions on formative assessment

Here are answers to some common student and teacher questions about formative assessment:

FAQs for students

Q: Why are formative assessments important for me as a student?

A: Formative assessments give you concrete feedback to improve your learning. They identify gaps so you can correct them early before problems compound. Mastering the material through formative assessments will translate to better performance on summative assessments.

Q: What’s the difference between formative and summative assessment?

A: Formative assessments happen during the learning process to monitor and improve learning. Summative assessments evaluate learning after instruction is complete via tests, final exams, projects, etc. Think of formative as feedback “for” learning and summative as assessments “of” learning.

Q: What types of formative assessment might I encounter in class?

A: Common formative assessments include quizzes, classwork, questioning, journals, reviews, polls, discussions, peer/self-assessments, and more. Actively participate to get helpful feedback.

Q: How much do formative assessments impact my final grade?

A: Formative assessments typically have a smaller impact on final grades than summative assessments. The main purpose is to give feedback, not evaluation. However, actively using formative feedback will still help improve your overall performance.

Q: What should I do if I struggle with a formative assessment?

A: Ask your teacher for help, clarify areas of confusion, and focus practice on weaknesses that assessments have identified. Formative assessment highlights gaps so you can fill them.

FAQs for teachers

Q: How often should I use formative assessment in the classroom?

A: There’s no set frequency, but aim for multiple times per week. Brief daily or weekly assessments provide better data than occasional longer ones. Consistent use cements it as an integral part of your instruction.

Q: What types of formative assessment work best for the classroom?

A: Short assessments like exit tickets, polls, quizzes, discussions, and reviewing classwork provide quick comprehension checks. Self-assessments and peer feedback also engage students in the process.

Q: How do I find time for formative assessments with summative assessments like standardized tests?

A: Weave formative assessment seamlessly into lessons through brief regular assessments, observational checks, and student feedback activities. Immediate data can help students perform better on summative tests.

Q: How should I grade frequent formative assessments?

A: Focus more on the feedback formative assessments provide than extensive grading. Score for completion to motivate participation. Prioritize identifying comprehension gaps over precise quantitative scores.

Q: What do I do if most students don’t understand a concept based on formative assessment?

A: Re-teach concepts students struggled with using a different instructional approach. Adjust the pace, use visuals, integrate more discussion, or provide manipulatives. Differentiate follow-up instruction based on assessment data.

Key takeaways and next steps

Formative assessment provides invaluable dynamic feedback to empower student learning and enhance teaching practices. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Use formative assessment continuously during instruction to monitor comprehension.
  • Vary assessment types and use technology to enable engaging assessments.
  • Ensure assessments provide meaningful feedback that students and teachers can act on.
  • Let data guide the adjustment of instructional methods and activities.
  • Have students track progress and self-assess to develop learning ownership.
  • Maintain open communication channels for students to seek clarification.

Effective learning requires an iterative process of teaching, assessing, giving feedback, and modifying instruction as needed. Integrating diverse formative assessments facilitates this cycle.

For the next steps as an educator, reflect on your curriculum and identify opportunities to build in more formative assessments. Start small by adding a quick check for understanding each day.

As a student, come prepared to each class to actively participate in assessments. Make it a consistent habit to process feedback and adjust your approach.

Formative assessment empowers continuous growth when incorporated meaningfully. Use the examples and strategies in this guide to enrich your teaching and become a self-directed learner.