Formative assessments are assessments implemented during the course of instruction, while learning is in progress. Whereas summative assessments evaluate what students have learned by the end of a period of instruction, formative assessments are typically designed for the purpose of providing feedback on student learning that is immediate, continuous, specific, and action-oriented (Suskie 2004). This feedback can be used by students to adjust their approach to learning–for example, helping them to identify areas on which they need to focus more attention, while also promoting metacognition more generally (reflection on their own thinking and learning processes). The feedback gathered through formative assessments can also be used by educators to adjust their teaching methods during the semester or even during a class period–for example, helping them to identify concepts in need of further clarification. Formative assessments are typically “no stakes” or “low stakes,” meaning that they are often ungraded or worth a relatively small proportion of a student’s grade.

Formative assessment plays a crucial role in equity-minded assessment, which strives to achieve equal outcomes for all students–that is, outcomes that are unrelated to students’ race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or other backgrounds or identities. Equitable assessments are typically learning-focused, inclusive, relevant, rigorous, and transparent (Artze-Vega et al., 2023). By providing ample opportunity to practice and actionable feedback to improve, formative assessments support all students in being able to achieve the high expectations set for rigorous courses. Portraying learning as an iterative process can also boost student motivation by focusing their attention on the learning process instead of on an outcome, such as a credential or grade (Nicol and McFarlane-Dick, 2007). Student motivation, in turn, can promote engagement, a sense of belonging, and ultimately, success in the classroom.

Formative assessments may include:

1. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

Classroom Assessment Techniques, also known as CAT(s), are a set of ungraded, quick, and effective techniques that can be implemented during class to gauge student preparedness or comprehension of topics as learning is in progress. Explore our webpage on different types of CATs to learn more. 

2. Classroom Polls

Classroom polls are also a great way to gauge student comprehension of course topics and identify and address misconceptions as they arise. Classroom polls may be particularly helpful in large classes or other contexts in which students are hesitant to speak up. Visit iClickers and Real-Time Polls to explore CU-supported polling systems.

3. Low-stakes homework assignments or quizzes

Low-stakes (low point value) assignments or assessments completed outside of class are another way to gauge student comprehension and provide students with timely feedback as they learn new skills or topics. This might, for example, involve students completing brief problem sets or quizzes on a weekly basis that are graded but have little impact on their final grade. Explore the DePaul Teaching Commons’ webpage on low-stakes assignments to learn more.

4. Self-assessments

Self-assessments encourage students to reflect on their own learning and their progress in the course. Self-assessments can help students identify gaps in their own understanding, while promoting their development of broader metacognitive skills. Some examples of self-assessment techniques include students grading their own essays or quizzes using rubrics, student-designed quizzes, reflective writing, or exam-wrappers. To understand why and how to incorporate self-assessments in class, visit University of New South Wales’ resource on student self-assessments.

5. Peer-assessments

Peer-assessments are an additional method for providing students with feedback on their learning as it occurs. When students provide feedback on the work of their peers, it can promote collaboration, communication, community-building, and skills for providing and receiving constructive feedback. In addition, peer assessments can be an effective method to provide detailed feedback to students in contexts in which providing individual feedback by instructors is impractical (e.g. large classes). Explore some of our tips on designing rubrics for peer-assessment.

You can find a full list of linked resources and additional references below to learn more about incorporating formative assessments and feedback in your class. For individualized support, you may also schedule a consultation with our team.


Artze-Vega, I., Darby, F., Dewsbury, B., & Imad, M. (2023). The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Eberly Center. Formative vs Summative AssessmentsCarnegie Mellon University.

Nicol, D.J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2007). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. (2021). Formative and summative assessments. Yale University.

Suskie, L. (2004). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. Bolton, MA. Anker Publishing.

Teaching Commons. Low Stakes-Assignments. DePaul University.

Further reading & resources:

Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass Publishing. 

Andrade, H. L. (2019). A Critical Review of Research on Student Self-Assessment. Frontiers in Education. 4(87).

Barkley, E. & Major, C. H. (2020). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass Publishing.

Center for Teaching Innovation. Incorporating Peer Assessments. Cornell University. 

Center for Teaching and Learning. Rubrics. University of Colorado, Boulder.

Center for Teaching and Learning. Incorporating Peer Assessments. University of Colorado, Boulder.

Formative Assessment Insights. Basics of Peer Assessment. Projects at WestEd.

Genova, L., Armstrong, K., Greenlee, J. W. & Samuel, D. (2021). Teaching Gradually: Practical Pedagogy for Graduate Students, by Graduate Students. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA.

Lovett, M. C. (2013). Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition. In Kaplan, M., Silver, N, Lavaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D. Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA., pp. 18-52.

Office of Information Technology. CUClickers/iClickers. University of Colorado, Boulder.

Office of teaching and Learning. Assignment/Exam Wrappers. University of Denver. 

Research & Innovation Office. Real-Time Polls. University of Colorado, Boulder.

The Teaching Gateway. Student Self-Assessment. University of New South Wales.

Techniques Video Library. Classroom Assessment Techniques. The K. Patricia Cross Academy.

Writing Across the curriculum. Using Reflective Writing to Deepen learning. University of Minnesota.