Summative Assessments: Examples & Types

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  • 0:01 Summative Assessments Defined
  • 0:16 The Purpose
  • 1:40 Formative Assessments
  • 2:30 The Stakes
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Vidhi Desai
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.

Think of state exams, midterms, finals, graded papers, and standardized tests such as the SAT. They all have one thing in common - they are summative assessments! Find out more in this lesson.


Summative Assessments Defined

Summative assessments are used to evaluate learning. They are generally associated with grades, points, or percentages. Examples are exams, graded projects, and papers. Standardized tests such as the SAT are also considered summative assessments.

The Purpose

Summative assessments, such as exams, are used to evaluate learning as well as serve as comparisons for standards, like class averages. They are used to determine what the students know and what they do not know. They can help determine the effectiveness of teaching. Scores can be indicative of the quality of the curriculum as well as appropriate placement of students. For example, when students perform well in an English class, they are given the option to select the honors or advanced placement sections of English for the following cycle.

However, summative assessments are used incrementally, and therefore, do not have immediate influence on instructional quality. For example, if your math teacher, Ms. B., gives an exam on algebra at the end of May after spending the entire month teaching algebra, she will know how you perform after she grades those exams. Once she begins teaching geometry in June, it would be difficult to revisit algebraic concepts that were misunderstood in May. She can only implement the changes when she teaches algebra the next time around.

These assessments are also used to form rankings of schools. If one school's students outperform another school's students on state or regional exams, that school is ranked as a better school for academics.

Formative Assessments

Some researchers believe that formative assessments are more effective than other tests because they can be incorporated into teaching methods. They seek to monitor learning instead of to evaluate it in the form of grades. Formative assessments are generally ungraded or are associated with low point values because they seek to check understanding. Students are less likely to cheat because they are not concerned with the grade, as they might be while taking summative assessments. Examples of these may come in the form of meaningful assignments like discussions with questions, group projects, individually completed graphs and charts, and reflections. When teachers conduct these activities, they know which areas of coursework are well-understood and which areas they should focus on a bit more.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Summative Assessments:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of at least one page that defines summative assessments and explains what they are used for.

Example: One use is to rank schools based on student performance.

Essay Prompt 2:

In about three to four paragraphs, write an essay that defines formative assessments and their uses.

Example: One use is to monitor how well students are comprehending specific material.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Make a poster, chart, or other type of graphic organizer that lists the pros and cons of summative assessments and of formative assessments.

Example: A con of summative assessments is that they can be very stressful.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 2:

Create a poster or some other type of graphic organizer that illustrates the concepts of high stakes versus low stakes. Be sure the graphic organizer shows why summative assessments are high stakes and formative assessments are low stakes.

Example: Formative assessments often are not graded.

Letter Prompt:

Pretend that you are a teacher, and, in addition to giving your school-mandated summative assessment at the end of the year, you have also decided to utilize formative assessments throughout the school year. Write a letter to your students' parents that explains the differences between summative and formative assessments and their values and that describes why you have chosen to utilize both in your classroom.

Example: You can write that you use formative assessments to better gauge student comprehension throughout the year, which allows you to prepare your students better for the summative assessment.

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