Principles of assessment

Types of assessment - some definitions

Formative assessment

Formative assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning. It does not contribute to the final mark given for the module; instead it contributes to learning through providing feedback. It should indicate what is good about a piece of work and why this is good; it should also indicate what is not so good and how the work could be improved. Effective formative feedback will affect what the student and the teacher does next.

Summative assessment

Summative assessment demonstrates the extent of a learner's success in meeting the assessment criteria used to gauge the intended learning outcomes of a module or programme, and which contributes to the final mark given for the module. It is normally, though not always, used at the end of a unit of teaching. Summative assessment is used to quantify achievement, to reward achievement, to provide data for selection (to the next stage in education or to employment). For all these reasons the validity and reliability of summative assessment are of the greatest importance. Summative assessment can provide information that has formative/diagnostic value.

Diagnostic assessment

Like formative assessment, diagnostic assessment is intended to improve the learner’s experience and their level of achievement. However, diagnostic assessment looks backwards rather than forwards. It assesses what the learner already knows and/or the nature of difficulties that the learner might have, which, if undiagnosed, might limit their engagement in new learning. It is often used before teaching or when a problem arises.

Dynamic assessment

Dynamic assessment measures what the student achieves when given some teaching in an unfamiliar topic or field.  An example might be assessment of how much Swedish is learnt in a short block of teaching to students who have no prior knowledge of the language. It can be useful to assess potential for specific learning in the absence of relevant prior attainment, or to assess general learning potential for students who have a particularly disadvantaged background. It is often used in advance of the main body of teaching.

Synoptic assessment

Synoptic assessment encourages students to combine elements of their learning from different parts of a programme and to show their accumulated knowledge and understanding of a topic or subject area. A synoptic assessment normally enables students to show their ability to integrate and apply their skills, knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth in the subject. It can help to test a student's capability of applying the knowledge and understanding gained in one part of a programme to increase their understanding in other parts of the programme, or across the programme as a whole [1]. Synoptic assessment can be part of other forms of assessment.

Criterion referenced assessment

Each student’s achievement is judged against specific criteria. In principle no account is taken of how other students have performed. In practice, normative thinking can affect judgements of whether or not a specific criterion has been met. Reliability and validity should be assured through processes such as moderation, trial marking, and the collation of exemplars.

Ipsative assessment

This is assessment against the student’s own previous standards. It can measure how well a particular task has been undertaken against the student’s average attainment, against their best work, or against their most recent piece of work. Ipsative assessment tends to correlate with effort, to promote effort-based attributions of success, and to enhance motivation to learn.

[1] QAA (2006) Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education, Gloucester: Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.