Center for Learning and Teaching

Assessment Strategies

Assessments are the wide variety of methods or tools that instructors use to evaluate, measure, and document the a learning progress and skill acquisition of students. While assessments are often equated with traditional tests, instructors can use a diverse array of assessment tools and methods beyond the exam. Just as academic lessons have different functions, assessments are typically designed to measure specific elements of learning—e.g., the level of knowledge a student already has about the concept or skill the instructor is planning to teach or the ability to comprehend and analyze different types of texts and readings. Assessments also are used to identify individual student weaknesses and strengths and provide a basis for assigning grades.

While assessment can take a wide variety of forms in education, the following descriptions provide a representative overview of a few major forms of educational assessment.


Pre-assessments are administered before students begin a lesson, unit, course, or academic program. Students are not necessarily expected to know most, or even any, of the material evaluated by pre-assessments—they are generally used to:
  • establish a baseline against which educators measure learning progress over the duration of a program, course, or instructional period, or
  • determine general academic readiness for a course, program, grade level, or new academic program that student may be transferring into.

Formative assessments 

Formative assessments are in-process evaluations of student learning that are typically administered multiple times during a lesson. The general purpose of formative assessment is to give educators in-process feedback about what students are learning or not learning so that instructional approaches, teaching materials, and academic support can be modified accordingly. Formative assessments are usually not scored or graded, and they may take a variety of forms, from more formal quizzes and assignments to informal questioning techniques and in-class discussions with students.
The general goal of formative assessment is to collect detailed information that can be used to improve instruction and student learning while it’s happening. What makes an assessment “formative” is not the design of a test, technique, or self-evaluation, per se, but the way it is used—i.e., to inform in-process teaching and learning modifications.
The following are a few representative examples of formative assessments:
  • Questioning Strategies -  Questions that instructors pose to individual students and groups of students during the learning process to determine what specific concepts or skills they may be having trouble with. A wide variety of intentional questioning strategies may be employed, such as phrasing questions in specific ways to elicit more useful responses.
  • Feedback - Specific, detailed, and constructive feedback that instructors provide on student work, such as journal entries, essays, worksheets, research papers, projects, ungraded quizzes, lab results, or works of art, design, and performance. The feedback may be used to revise or improve a work product, for example.
  • Admit/Exit Slips - “Exit slips” or “exit tickets” that quickly collect student responses to a instructor’s questions at the end of a lesson or class period. Based on what the responses indicate, the instructor can then modify the next lesson to address concepts that students have failed to comprehend or skills they may be struggling with. “Admit slips” are a similar strategy used at the beginning of a class or lesson to determine what students have retained from previous learning experiences.
  • Self-assessment - Self-assessments that ask students to think about their own learning process, to reflect on what they do well or struggle with, and to articulate what they have learned or still need to learn to meet course expectations or learning standards.
  • Peer-assessment - Peer-assessments that allow students to use one another as learning resources. For example, “workshopping” a piece of writing with classmates is one common form of peer assessment, particularly if students follow a rubric or guidelines provided by an instructor.


  • Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), University Teaching & Learning Center, George Washington University
  • Examples of Formative Assessment, Teach 21, West Virginia Department of Education
  • Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (Second Edition) by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross. Available at the Bartle Library Stacks (LB2822.75 .A54 1993)

Summative assessments 

Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—typically at the end of a unit or semester. Summative assessments are defined by three major criteria:
  1. The tests, assignments, or projects are used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn. In other words, what makes an assessment “summative” is not the design of the test, assignment, or self-evaluation, per se, but the way it is used—i.e., to determine whether and to what degree students have learned the material they have been taught.
  2. Summative assessments are given at the conclusion of a specific instructional period, and therefore they are generally evaluative, rather than diagnostic—i.e., they are more appropriately used to determine learning progress and achievement, evaluate the effectiveness of educational programs, measure progress toward improvement goals, or make course-placement decisions, among other possible applications.
  3. Summative-assessment results are often recorded as scores or grades that are then factored into a student’s final grade.
The following are common examples of summative assessments:
  • ePortfolios - “An e-portfolio is a digitized collection of artifacts including demonstrations, resources, and accomplishments that represent an individual...This collection can be comprised of text-based, graphic, or multimedia elements archived on a Web site or on other electronic media...An e-portfolio is more than a simple collection—it can also serve as an administrative tool to manage and organize work created with different applications and to control who can see the work. E-portfolios encourage personal reflection and often involve the exchange of ideas and feedback.” (Lorenzo and Ittelson). Binghamton University students have access to the Digication ePortfolio platform.
  • Exams
  • Projects
  • Final Revisions of Assignments
  • Performances


Formative assessments are commonly said to be for learning because educators use the results to modify and improve teaching techniques during an instructional period, while summative assessments are said to be of learning because they evaluate academic achievement at the conclusion of an instructional period. Or as assessment expert Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s summative assessment.”

Additional Assessment Resources


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Last Updated: 3/1/17