Multiple choice question

What is a formative assessment?

At schools and exam institutions, you often see the term formative assessment come up. But what exactly do we mean by that? Formative assessment focuses on both testing and learning, with the goal of improving candidate learning. For example, although a grade is given, this grade is only indicative and does not affect the candidate. This makes formative assessment an enjoyable and effective way of learning.

Formative assessment – an example

Within secondary education, final exams are an important measuring moment. In order to prepare students properly, mock exams are often administered. Although students receive a grade for this test, this grade does not count towards the final result. Therefore, the purpose of the test is to prepare students for the actual final test.

In this example, the actual final test is a summative assessment.

Formative assessment takes place in a variety of ways. Different descriptions of a formative assessment can be thought of depending on where the test takes place. One can think of the following examples:

Entry-level tests

At the start of a course or training, it can be useful to know the candidate’s starting level. Entry-level tests can help determine this. With this test, you can determine what the candidate already knows and what needs extra attention.

Diagnostic tests

Diagnostic tests are a good option if you want to focus on improving the candidate’s specific weak points. For example, when determining the language level of a non-native candidate.

Recognition tests

Prior knowledge tests are designed to determine the candidate’s prior knowledge. Through this test, you can determine what the candidate already knows about the test subject and what information still needs to be presented.

Sample exams

To properly prepare candidates for the actual exam, sample exams can help. These practice exams give an example of what the candidate can expect on the exam. This allows them to better prepare, for example, when preparing for a math exam.

Interim tests

Interim tests can be administered during a course or training to measure the candidate’s progress. This allows you to determine whether the candidate is on the right track or whether extra attention is needed for certain topics. For practical tests, for example, interim tests are a good option.


Self-tests are tests that the candidate takes independently to test his or her knowledge. In this form of test, a candidate can discover which subjects he or she has not yet mastered and where extra attention needs to be paid. For example, self-tests are used when learning a new language.

Giving feedback in formative assessment

In formative assessment, good feedback is essential. Without feedback, the test does not fulfill its purpose. More information on giving feedback in formative assessment can be found in our blog: giving feedback in formative assessment.

Candidates with fear of failure?

Candidates with performance anxiety can benefit from formative assessment. In fact, with regular positive feedback through this type of test, they perform better. This confirmation actually decreases the anxiety before the actual (final) test.

Paper or digital formative assessment?

In a paper formative assessment, the opportunities for feedback are limited. For example, an answer sheet with the correct answer and explanation is used. If you opt for digital formative assessment, you can, for example, use multimedia or use different closed question types.

Not only giving feedback is easier via digital assessment. Distributing questions is also a lot easier. We have previously written a blog about the advantages of digital assessment.


Would you like to learn more about formative assessment? Our (testing expert) consultants will gladly help you on your way. Feel free to contact us. For inspiration, be sure to also take a look at our knowledge base! Learn more about digital assessment and examination in our monthly newsletter and on our LinkedIn page.

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