Diagnostic, Formative and Summative Assessments

In any teaching-learning process, the importance of any assessment as a feedback tool cannot be underestimated.

Assessment and imbibing new information (learning) are two sides of the same coin. As teachers-students engage in an assessment exercise, besides grades and marks, they should be able to get pointers to the learning processes as well.

The challenge is for teachers-students is to shift the assessment paradigm and think of it as a concept than a terminal event.

An assessment outcome is a powerful tool for high stake holders such as educational management professionals, as they can gauge if teachers are really teaching or not! Many times in India, it happens that teachers don’t teach and complete the curriculum and syllabus, and the students are left to fend for themselves, unfortunately

In my earlier blogs on Analytical Framework for Monitoring Teaching-Learning Process

(https://atabhagwat.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/analytical-framework-for-monitoring-teaching-learning-process/)and in Quality Assurance in Education and Training (https://atabhagwat.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/quality-assurance-in-education-and-training/) I have emphasized the importance of assessments and rubrics. In this blog I explain the various types of assessments and compare formative and summative assessments.

For teachers, the purpose and the need for assessment is an important criterion to decide which types of assessment to conduct. There are three types of assessments:

  • Diagnostic
  • Formative, and
  • Summative


Diagnostic assessments are used to gather information about what students already know and are able to do. It provides a way for teachers and trainers to chart a course of action. Typical diagnostic assessment will be:

  • A pre-test
  • KWL (know, want to know, and what did we learn)
  • Graphic organizers

On the other hand formative assessments can occur throughout the teaching-learning process. They provide multiple opportunities for students as well to teachers if the targeted goals and learning objectives are achieved, without the concerns about grading and getting good marks.

Summative assessment is a type of assessment that makes a final judgement a about student’s learning achievement.

Formative versus Summative Assessment

Feature Formative Assessment Summative Assessment
When is conducted? This assessment is conducted at anytime, especially as teaching is in progress, with feedback from the teacher. (It is also useful for the teacher to adapt the instructions so that students follow the teaching). This assessment is conducted after a particular unit of time (weekly, monthly, etc.)
Examples Quiz, surprise tests, journals Unit tests, final exams, projects
Is it timed? Not necessarily Yes
Purpose/aim? Generally aimed at what students cannot do.It is prospective in nature. Generally aimed at what students can do.It is evaluative/retrospective in nature.
Is any feedback given? Yes. No, not generally.
Does it test the instruction? Yes.It is a reflection on the teacher’s instruction.

Instructional effectiveness – high

No, not really.It is a reflection on the student’s assimilation.

Instructional effectiveness – most of the cases it is not in the picture!

Does it motivate a student to learn? Yes.Leads to motivation to learn for the students. No.Leads to understanding of a student’s level of learning.
Can it be used for self- evaluation by a student? Yes.It can be used for self-evaluation, self-assessment, and goal setting No, not generally.It cannot be used for self-evaluation, self-assessment, and goal setting
Grades and accountability It is not about grades or accountability, but it is used for getting better. It is about accountability, for getting marks and grades.
Does it measure learning objectives/outcomes? Tests to measure learning objectives. Tests to measure learning outcomes.
Stakes Low – stakes for students’ learning, high stakes for teachers’ instructional methods High – stakes for students’ learning, low stakes for teachers’ instructional methods


3 thoughts on “Diagnostic, Formative and Summative Assessments

  1. Hello Anu, this is Karina from the GEMS MOOC. This is my address (I assume you can see it even if it’s private).

    I loved this entry you wrote, I saw you have other posts so I’ll be reading them as soon as possible.

    Best wishes to you, thanks again for sharing such important information.

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