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This is a short guide to developing effective formative assessment.

Formative assessment refers to assessment that is specifically intended to generate feedback on performance to improve and accelerate learning (Sadler, 1998). 

Formative feedback should have a structure when given. It is good practice to include a comment about what the student has done well; this helps to establish the relationship between the teacher and learner. 

The feedback should include a clear indication of how the work can be improved, particularly with reference to future work; this is called feed forward. 

Finally, where possible, you should get the student to reflect on the feedback given. One way of approaching this is to ask the students to write what they will do next based upon the feedback. 

Black & William (1998) recommend not including a mark or score on a piece of work. The reasoning behind this is that when a mark is given, it becomes the focus of the student’s attention instead of the written feedback which gives the advice on how to improve their learning.  

When formative assessments are set is also important. They need to be set so that students have an opportunity to complete the assessment, receive their feedback and act upon the feedback. If formative assessment occur too close to the summative assessment deadline, this offers the student little time to act on any feedback. 

If you encounter the same issue again and again, use this as an opportunity for feed-forward to yourself: when redesigning and planning the same/similar courses for the next year, include these common problems as things to watch out for. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Keep it short. 
  • Have a structure to your feedback: 
    • What they have done well 
    • Even better if…/Continue to… 
    • Give the student an opportunity to reflect on the feedback by asking them to write down what they will do next.
  • Don’t give an overall mark. 
  • Don’t use formative assessment only at the end of the module. 
  • Feed forward any common problems that you encounter in students work in the next iteration of the course. 

Further Reading

Black P. and Wiliam D. (1998)  Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment. London: Kings College London. 

Nicol, D. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), pp. 199–218. 

Sadler, D.R. (1998) ‘Formative assessment: revisiting the territory.’ Assessment in Education, 5(1), pp.77-84.