Formative & Summative Assessment: an explanation


Are you totally clear on the difference between formative and summative assessment? If not this is a quick reminder of what is meant by each.  Many people don’t seem to think of assessment in training evaluation terms but I believe it is the core of the Kirkpatrick Level 2 Evaluation model.

To help determine how we’re going to approach assessment in training we should be clear on the two different types; formative and summative methods of assessment.

Formative Assessment

The way I remember what formative assessment is about is to remind myself that ‘formative informs”.  The idea is that I am informed about how the trainee is performing at various stages of the training.

So, where appropriate, formative assessments occurs throughout the training and perhaps even before the training starts (it can help identify prior knowledge).  Formative assessment can be either formal or informal.  It may be a written test, or it may just be a general Q&A discussion at the end of a particular module of training.

Different types of training will call for a different blend of formal and informal methods.  You’ll need to decide what is best for you, along with the timing of it, as part of the training design process.

In my opinion there are 2 key advantages of formative assessment:

  1. It provides feedback to the student on how they’re performing (which will hopefully motivate them).
  2. It provides feedback to the trainer on those areas where they might need to focus more attention on to reinforce particular learning points.
The aim of formative assessment is to improve the amount of learning that occurs.

Summative Assessment

The way I remember what summative assessment is about is to remind myself that “summative is a summary”.  The idea is that it summarises how the trainee has performed at the end of the training.

Summative assessment could also be formal or informal; the type of training should determine what the best of course of action is.  However, I believe that all training should have some form of summative assessment, without it how can you be sure that learning has actually occurred?

In my opinion there are 4 key advantages of summative assessment:

  1. Its existence (learners will need to be aware of it from the start) provides motivation and helps create an appropriate learning environment.
  2. Positive results give the trainees a boost in confidence and can act as a springboard into subsequent behaviour change back in the workplace.
  3. Trainers can identify those areas where results are consistently lower and can then consider alternative delivery methods – helping to develop the training for future events.
  4. The results provide a measurable way of determining the success of the training programme, directly comparable from one intake to the next.
The aim of summative assessment is to prove that learning has occurred.

What assessment methods are you using?

Are you delivering training courses that do not include any methods of formative or summative assessment?  What are the most successful methods of assessment that you have used?  It would be great to hear from you in the comments section below.

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