What is summative assessment?

What is summative assessment?

In schools and exam institutions, you often see the term summative testing come up. But what exactly is summative testing? The purpose of a summative test is to make a (final) judgment. So this type of test has consequences, unlike formative testing. In fact, formative testing focuses on testing and learning and has no (harsh) consequences if you fail a test.

Summative test – an example

To give you an idea of a summative test, it is helpful to give an example that everyone is familiar with. A good example of a summative test is the driving test. You are not allowed to drive a car until you have passed both the theory and practical exams (driver’s license B). So to get your driver’s license, you will have to pass two summative tests, a theory test and practical test.

Summative testing takes place on the driving test

The driving test is a good example of summative testing.


Features of summative tests

Summative tests aim to arrive at a (final) judgment. Furthermore, there are a number of features related to summative testing. Below we discuss five of them:

Passed or failed (1)

A summative test is often a selective test. In other words, you must pass the test. The driver’s license is again a clear example here. Only if you have passed the theory and practical exams are you allowed to drive a car.

Formal status (2)

Much can depend on passing a summative test. You can use it to obtain a diploma or certificate that will allow you to practice your profession, for example. Consider, among other things, the Wft (Financial Supervision Act) diploma that financial advisors must obtain to demonstrate their professional competence. Doctors and lawyers also take tests (periodically) to practice their profession.

Nationally recognized (3)

Summative tests are often recognized nationally and sometimes even internationally. These are generally exams based on specific occupational and/or industry standards. When there are international agreements on this per industry or professional group, the diplomas are also recognized/usable outside the Netherlands.

Strict secrecy (4)

A summative exam aims to measure the candidate’s knowledge in the most focused way possible. This means that every candidate must jump the same bar without any prior knowledge. Logically, therefore, strict confidentiality of exam questions is of great importance. After all, if exam questions are leaked, it gives a distorted picture of the candidate’s knowledge.

Supervision (5)

Given the generally high stakes involved in summative tests, (strict) supervision is a requirement. This can be shaped physically, of course, but nowadays also remotely through online proctoring. Preventing any form of exam fraud is a priority in all cases.

Digital summative testing

Summative tests are used to interpret and recognize knowledge and skills. In the case of digital summative testing, it is very important to set high standards for the testing software you use. This is because good testing software enables you to test in a safe way, however you want.

Digital summative testing

Digital summative testing has many advantages


List some aspects that may be important when choosing testing software:

Offer candidates a protected exam environment

Make sure you can lock down the key using a so-called “lockdown browser. In such a protected testing environment, candidates cannot visit other applications or (web) pages during the exam. In doing so, you offer the candidate a safe testing environment while reducing the chances of possible test fraud.

Offer candidates a clear and intuitive user interface

Everyone knows that distractions can be disastrous when taking a test. A simple and easy-to-use user interface allows candidates to focus fully on the content of the test. This generally benefits the end result.

Use different question types

Despite the fact that the vast majority of exam questions are still multiple-choice, digital testing offers many more options. There are several question types you can use in your exams. By using different question formats, you optimize the exam. This way, you can use the question format that best suits the question in question and also add variety to the exam, making it more interesting for the candidate. For example, suppose you are taking a summative test where you want to measure geographic knowledge, you could choose what is called a hot spot question. In this case, the candidate clicks on the appropriate location(s) within an image.

Reuse of items (exam questions)

Developing exam questions (also called items) takes a lot of time and money. Good testing software allows you to rotate exam questions. With an item bank of sufficient size, a random exam can then be constructed for each participant based on a test matrix. Moreover, you can “randomize” questions, for example, by using different names in an otherwise similar question. Also, the questions remain “safe” in the database and generally do not “end up on the street,” allowing you to reuse them every time. So you save a lot of (development) time and costs in the long run.

Set up your own workflow

Developing (summative) tests often involves many different people. The right testing software helps you keep everyone informed through built-in notifications. For example, when one person finishes writing the exam questions, the other can immediately proceed with fixing them. Moreover, the right software allows you to completely set up the digital development environment based on your workflow and development approach.

Improve and optimize your review

Tools such as test reports and analyses give you insight into item quality. By continuously measuring and improving, you take your digital summative test to an even higher level. Moreover, you can always see back what has been changed about a particular item over time (item history).

Secure the safety of your key

Another important aspect of digital summative testing is security. Therefore, make the choice of an AVG-proof testing system. And get informed about issues such as secure data exchange and the role of the testing system in fraud detection.

Want to know more about digital summative testing?

Want to learn more about summative testing? Our (test expert) colleagues will be happy to help you. Do you have other questions on digital assessment? Feel free to contact us or check out our knowledge base where you can find inspiration. We also have a monthly newsletter packed with inspiration about the subject of digital testing and examiation. And, of course, you can follow us on LinkedIn.

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