Summative versus Formative

by Doug Smith, CEO

I was speaking with Gabe Romero of the National Registry the other day and he shared with me some interesting information. He indicated that a large number of instructors were confused with the terms Formative and Summative when it comes to testing. As such, I would like to take just a couple of minutes of your time to help clarify these terms.

Formative exams, tests, quizzes, evaluations, etc. are given with the specific intent of providing the student with feedback. They are given to “inform” the student and instructor on weak and strong areas so that subsequent performances can be better. Quizzes are a common example of a Formative Evaluation.

Summative exams, tests, evaluations, etc. are given as a means of measuring whether a student, program, class, etc. have met specified standards or not. These evaluations are typically given at the end of a program and are not designed to provide feedback/remediation, as there will be no subsequent performance to evaluate. The Final Exam for a program or the National Registry Examination would be examples of Summative Evaluations.