Formative Assessments: Examples, Types & Definition

Mary Firestone

Mary Firestone has a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Firestone has experience as an instructor for English, English Composition, Advanced Composition, Contemporary World Literature, Contemporary Literature, and Creative Writing. She has taught at a variety of schools such as Ottawa University Online, Rasmussen College, Excelsior College, and Southern New Hampshire University.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Find out what formative assessments are and the part they play in the learning process. Learn about the types of formative assessments and review the examples. Read the lesson, then take a quiz to test your new knowledge. Updated: 09/13/2020


Formative assessments are a part of the instruction process where students are given the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. The assessments are 'formative' because the results don't determine a grade, but they do determine the direction instruction will take. Teachers may change the lesson content or any number of things after a formative assessment to help students successfully complete the unit. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are the type that show how much a student has learned by taking an exam or quiz for a grade.

Types and Examples of Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are a discovery process that may involve direct questioning or reflection on the part of the student. Below are some of the ways you might choose to do a formative assessment:


Muddiest Point Questions

Ask the whole class if they have a 'muddiest point'--the one thing that seems to keep them from understanding and learning--and write their responses down on a whiteboard or chalkboard. One by one, walk through their 'muddiest', explaining and checking for understanding as you go along. Or, ask them to jot them down. Collect them and write them down on the board for class participation and explanation.

Prepared and Emerging Questions

During the lesson, ask questions that invite critical thinking. Prepare questions ahead of time and also expand on questions that emerge during the lesson. This will help you discover what students have learned and also invite deeper engagement.

Question Box

Provide a drop-box where students can anonymously submit questions they have about the lesson. This is especially helpful to students who struggle with speaking up during class or admitting they don't understand something.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Formative Assessments:

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Create a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that compares and contrasts formative assessments and summative assessments.

Example: You could have a graphic organizer with two columns: one for formative assessments and one for summative assessments.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 2:

Make a poster, chart, or some other type of graphic organizer that presents the steps of the formative assessment type of reflection process during and after a lesson.

Example: You could provide an illustration of an index card and explain that you can use it to gauge student comprehension by seeing one thing about the lesson they understand and one thing that they still have questions about or difficulty understanding.

Essay Prompt:

Write an essay of one to two pages that describes the importance of questioning in formative assessments, as well as the techniques teachers can use to elicit questions from students.

Example: While teaching the lesson, ask questions that get students to use critical thinking skills.

Lesson Plan Prompt:

Devise a lesson plan that utilizes formative assessments. Choose a specific topic that you will be teaching, and then provide examples of how you plan to incorporate formative assessments in the learning process.

Example: You are teaching about the Civil War, and you have quite a few students who struggle with speaking in class, so you provide a question box for students to anonymously submit any questions they have about the Civil War.

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