Assessments are more than just a method to assign a grade; they are a powerful tool for measuring and guiding the learning process. A good assessment provides feedback on which concepts or tasks the students are struggling with, so the instructor can devise ways to help them better understand and apply the material. There are many different types of assessments that educators can use to evaluate whether or not a student has learned the required knowledge and skills for the course. Three of these are diagnostic, formative, and summative.

  • Do you want to assess where your students are on a topic so you can address their misconceptions and strengthen and build upon their knowledge? Use a diagnotic assessment.
  • Would you like to improve or inform your teaching methods? Use a formative assessment.
  • Are you wondering, "How proficient are my students after the time we've spent together?" Use a summative assessment.


A diagnostic assessment, such as a placement test or pretest, is administered before registration or at the start of a course to determine each students' level of proficiency, comprehension and baseline knowledge. Diagnostic assessments are not graded but are used to set students up for success by getting them in the correct level course or to help a faculty member determine students' prior knowledge and subtopic areas of strength and weakness. Informally, these assessments can be accomplished through teacher-led discussions prior to new learning using guiding questions, examples, and scenarios.


Formative assessments, whether formal or informal, are used to determine if students are attaining the course objectives or if teaching styles need to be modified as the course progresses to help students achieve the core outcomes. Formative assessments can come in many forms such as observation, group discussions, assignments, projects and quizzes. They typically allow for immediate feedback which aids the faculty member and the student in tracking the status of their learning experience. They occur regularly throughout your course design and inform your instructional modifications while building student knowledge.

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Summative assessments are used to measure the level of proficiency at the end of an instructional unit in order to compare what students have learned to a standard or benchmark. Since they are a cumulative assessment, summative assessments typically have a high point value. Unit exams, midterms, final exams and final projects are often forms of summative assessment.

Assessment and Grading Tools