• Home
  • Standards
  • Assessment types and their uses: Formative
  • Assessm...

Posted by Julie Delazyn
Assessments have many different purposes, and to use them effectively it’s important to understand their context and uses within the learning process.
Last week I wrote about diagnostic assessments, and today I’ll explore formative assessments.
Typical uses:

  • Strengthening memory recall and correcting misconceptions
  • Promoting confidence in one’s knowledge
  • Enhancing learning by directing attention to and creating intrigue about a given subject
  • Measuring learners’ knowledge or skills and telling them how they’re doing
  • Giving learners search and retrieval practice and prescriptive feedback


  • Quizzes
  • Practice tests and exams
  • Self-assessments

Stakes: low
Example: An instructor gives a quiz to help reassure students that they’re actually learning — or alert them that they are not learning and provide feedback to correct any misconceptions. Students can use this feedback as a study guide to understand where they’re going right and where they’re going wrong. Students also benefit from the search and retrieval practice they’ve had while taking the quiz – which can help them remember the material in the future. Formative assessments give instructors a way to ask students: “Did you get that?” Sometimes, a series of quizzes is used to collect data that contribute to overall grades – but generally, formative assessments serve as check-ups on learners’ understanding and guideposts for further progress.

For a fuller analysis of assessments and their uses check out the white paper, Assessments Through the Learning Process. You can download it free here, after login. Another good source for testing and assessment terms is our glossary.
In the coming weeks I’ll take a look at three remaining assessment types:

  • Needs
  • Reaction
  • Summative