The University of Bolton defines formative assessments as assessments which do not count towards the formal outcomes of the module but allow students to learn from feedback. Formative assessments also help tutors identify and address any learning and skills gaps. Effective formative assessment feedback and feed-forward activities improve student outcomes and assessment literacy (see sub-section 2.5).

Key Principles

  • Relevance - Effective formative assessment should relate to the nature of the summative assessment and the learning outcomes being assessed.

  • Active learning - It is important that students and tutors reflect on and actively respond to the outcomes of formative assessment.
  • Timely - Feedback on formative assessment activities should be provided in time for students and tutors to make changes/refinements before the summative assessment deadline.
  • Multifaceted - Formative assessment can take may forms from simple, 2 minute online quiz, to a full simulation of the summative assessment e.g. practice presentation or mock-exam (see formative assessment “menu” in the blue box below). 
  • Collaborative - Formative assessment feedback/outcomes may be provided by tutor, generated by the student themselves, provided by student peers and/or provided by other stakeholders e.g. employers.
  • Risk-free - Formative assessment activities provide students with a risk-free way of evaluating strengths and areas for development before a summative assessment is finalised. It is important therefore to ensure feedback is provided in a supportive and non-judgemental manner (whether given by the tutor, peers or others).

Good Practice

At the start of a module, it is beneficial to make clear to students the importance of formative assessment in relation to outcomes, its benefits (prompt feedback, risk-free) and the need to act on formative assessment feedback.

It is also useful to make it explicit when formative assessment is taking place – at the point of its use and in advance in the Module Guide.

Formative assessment activities can also be developed and/or refined by tutors and students together, identifying where students may feel they need additional support for learning.

Strategies for addressing learning and skills gaps identified using formative assessment can be developed as a whole class activity.

Formative assessment feedback should be provided in a supportive and non-judgemental manner in order to improve outcomes. If feedback opportunities are given to student peers or other stakeholders, it important to remind them of this.

Foramtive Assessment Menu

Click the formative assessment methods below to discover practical guidance and tips for tutors.

Annotated bibliography/ Reference List
Ask students to conduct initial research, develop a bibliography and then evaluate briefly the significance/usefulness of each research source (can be verbal or written). Use self- assessment and/or peer feedback to refine the list and identify gaps in information requirements.
Assessment plan
Ask students to conduct initial research, and to submit a plan for a summative assessment in the form of headings or bullet points. Brief notes and references can be under each heading/bullet point. Provide feedback on the structure, research approach and any gaps in an academic tutorial.
Group seminar activity
Assessments with a variety of topics/themes: Ask a group of students to conduct initial research in a specific topic area and to lead a seminar presentation with an activity for the rest of the cohort to elicit feedback Examinations: Ask students to look through their notes/the class materials and devise a set of mock exam questions for the class the answer. Stage a time constrained team (pub-type) quiz to test understanding of key topics – with questions set by the students or by yourself.
Mock timed assessment
For example, mock exam, mock OSCE, practice presentations, practice interview.

This involves simulating the summative assessment. Peer and self-feedback can be used to supplement tutor feedback.
Online Quiz - individual
For example, Moodle quiz, Quizziz and Kahoot or group e.g. Vevox or Menti.

Online quizzes are useful and quick ways of testing knowledge gaps. However, in relation to testing complex problem solving and practical skills these can be limited.
Project proposal
Project proposals including project aim/objectives, project structure, timescales and key references can be presented to the class or a smaller group for tutor and peer feedback.
Self-assessment check list
Give students a check list in advance of submission to assess whether key considerations have been met. It is important that a) there is sufficient time allocated for checking and refinement b) the criteria are clear and relate to the learning outcomes, assessment brief and marking rubric, e.g. General Assessment Guidelines.
Self-assessment extract
Ask students to submit part of a summative assessment in draft for feedback. NB Whilst feedback can be given on academic writing style or understanding of the topic covered, feedback on the overarching research approach and the content and structure of the whole assessment would be difficult.
Draft written assessment
Ask student to submit a draft of a full piece of work NB Feedback at the end of the student’s writing process provides less opportunities for reflection and refinement than feedback on plans, proposals and annotated bibliographies.


Further Reading

Irons, A., and Elkington, S. (2021). Enhancing Learning Through Formative Assessment and Feedback. London: Routledge

McCallum, S., & Milner, M. M. (2021). The Effectiveness of Formative Assessment: Student Views and Staff Reflections. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(1), pp. 1-16

Morris, R., Perry, T. and Wardle, L., (2021). Formative Assessment and Feedback for Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Review. Review of Education, 9(3), p. 3292

Wheatley, L., Lord, R., McInch, A. and Fleming, S. (2015). Feeding Back to Feed Forward: Formative Assessment as a Platform for Effective Learning. Kentucky Journal of Higher Education Policy and Practice, 3(2), pp.1-31