Exploring student experience of formative assessment

By Anosh Butt


Weurlander et al. (2012) discussed how assessments both summarise students’ achievements for an award and certification (summative assessment) and give feedback to the students to support learning (formative assessment). The authors highlighted that formative assessment is quite under-theorized as more research is necessary to gain a better understanding of various methods in which assessment practice enables student learning (Weurlander et al., 2012). Further exploration is needed as student experience of assessment practice impacts the relationship between assessment and learning (Samuelowicz and Bain, 2002).

The study presents the perspective that assessments need to facilitate learning and support for students who are developing their understanding of the subject matter and enhancing their intellectual abilities. Academicians and tutors should consider assessment as an integral part of teaching, learning and focus on student involvement and authentic, meaningful assessment, leading to developing various assessment forms (Falchikov, 2005).

Formative assessment aims to accommodate different aims and generate feedback on students’ performance to improve learning. Weurlander et al. (2012) aim to contribute to formative assessment by exploring students’ experiences of different types of formative assessment made during a course. The specific problems addressed in this study include (1) ways in which methods of formative assessments can act as tools for learning; and (2) how do students experience and perceive these two types of formative assessment (Weurlander et al., 2012).


To resolve these problems, Weurlander et al. (2012) classified two different types of formative assessment. The first formative assessment type was an individual written assessment with factual questions and the second formative assessment type was an oral assessment encouraging students to solve problems in groups. These formative assessment types were introduced to part of a nine-week lecture-based undergraduate course in pathology, which comprised teaching and learning activities such as autopsies, case seminars, and seminars during which students discussed microscopic images of tissue.

The first formative assessment consisted of about 20 questions which required short answers from a few words to a few sentences and mainly emphasized the recall of factual knowledge. A few examples of questions were: What are the causes of tissue damage due to an inflammatory response, and which factors influence the selection of the target organ during the spread of a tumour from its original site (metastasis)?

For the second formative assessment type, the students were given cards with different pieces of information regarding the cases, including written patient histories, laboratory tests, printed microscopic images, and surgical specimens. The two very different formative assessment types served as study objects and were chosen because of different foci. The first was dedicated to right/wrong answers, individual performance, and delayed feedback, and the other focussed on understanding/problem-solving, group performance, and immediate feedback (Weurlander et al., 2012).

The individual assessment largely reflected the view of assessment as knowledge control, and group assessment showed the concept of assessment as learning. In addition to the two formative assessments, there were two summative assessments at the end of the course – a group assessment where students solved problems and an individual written exam.

Measurable impact

The study supported ideas related to formative assessment methods acting as tools for learning by affecting students’ motivation to study and by making them aware of their learning and contributing to the overall learning process. This research was a small-scale study focussing on students’ experiences of assessment rather than the outcome. Weurlander et al. (2012) believe that its findings suggest implications for assessment practice and course design. Students’ experience was impacted by the order in which they were exposed to the assessment methods and the educational environment which constituted the study's context.

The first formative assessment type (individual assessment method) would not be seen as such a successful tool for learning if it was presented later in the undergraduate course. Weurlander et al. (2012) affirm that this type of assessment method is regarded as an appropriate tool for learning by students in an educational environment with a strong emphasis on the development of understanding, problem-solving and self-regulated learning. Regarding the group assessment, it was discovered that due to its focus on application and problem-solving in groups, it could be utilised in a variety of educational settings.

In relation to the teaching perspective, the use of numerous complementary formative assessments throughout a course can enable students to study consistently. For some students, this could be an important tool for helping to cope with the workload of the course and their degree (Weurlander et al., 2012). In situations when students can manage each assessment task on its own the set of tasks as a whole, can be too daunting and demanding for them, and they may become selective in relation to the tasks that they focus on (Lindberg- Sand and Olsson 2008; Scheja 2002).

Lastly, the assessment task design relies on the teacher and students’ learning to improve if teachers consciously use a series of assessment tasks to facilitate learning in a variety of ways. Different assessment tasks have the potential to support student learning in different ways by combining them and by considering the educational and disciplinary context in the assessment task design across programmes for effective, efficient, and robust assessment practice.


Q: How do students' personal and cultural backgrounds influence their perception and effectiveness of different formative assessment types?

A: Students' personal and cultural backgrounds have a significant impact on how they perceive and benefit from different types of formative assessments. The concept of student voice is crucial in this context, as it emphasises the importance of acknowledging and incorporating the diverse perspectives and experiences of students into the assessment process. Personal and cultural backgrounds can affect a student's confidence, communication styles, and preference for individual or group work. For example, students from cultures that value collective success may find group assessments more meaningful and engaging, while those from cultures that emphasise individual achievement may prefer individual assessments. Understanding and addressing these differences can help educators design assessments that are more inclusive and effective for all students, thereby enhancing the learning experience through a more personalised approach.

Q: In what ways can technology be leveraged to enhance the feedback process in formative assessments to better support student learning and engagement?

A: Technology can play a pivotal role in enhancing the feedback process in formative assessments, making it more immediate, interactive, and personalised. By incorporating digital platforms and tools, educators can provide students with timely and detailed feedback that is easily accessible. For instance, text analysis software can be used to give students instant feedback on written assignments, highlighting areas for improvement and offering suggestions for enhancement. Online forums and discussion boards can facilitate continuous peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student feedback, encouraging an ongoing dialogue around learning. The use of technology also supports the principle of student voice, as it allows students to actively engage with their feedback, ask questions, and reflect on their learning in a more dynamic way. This approach not only supports student learning and engagement but also fosters a culture of openness and continuous improvement.

Q: How do different disciplines (e.g., humanities vs. STEM) impact the design and perceived value of formative assessments among students and educators?

A: The design and perceived value of formative assessments vary significantly across different disciplines, influenced by the nature of the subject matter and the learning objectives. In the humanities, where interpretation and critical thinking are key, formative assessments might focus more on essays, presentations, and discussions that allow for the expression of student voice and the exploration of diverse perspectives. In contrast, STEM disciplines might utilise formative assessments that emphasise problem-solving skills and the application of concepts, such as lab work, quizzes, and group projects. The disciplinary context shapes how students and educators view the purpose and effectiveness of assessments. Acknowledging these differences and designing assessments that align with the educational goals of each discipline can enhance student engagement and learning. Moreover, incorporating student voice in the assessment design process, regardless of the discipline, can ensure that assessments are relevant, challenging, and supportive of student learning outcomes.


[Source] ) Weurlander, M., Söderberg, M., Scheja, M., Hult, H., & Wernerson, A. (2012). Exploring formative assessment as a tool for learning: students’ experiences of different methods of formative assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(6), 747-760.
DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2011.572153

[1] Falchikov, N. 2005. Improving assessment through student involvement: Practical solutions for aiding learning in higher and further education. New York, NY: Routledge.
ISBN: 9780415308212

[2] Lindberg-Sand, Å., and T. Olsson. 2008. Sustainable assessment?: Critical features of the assessment process in a modularised engineering programme. International Journal of Educational Research 47, no. 3: 165–74.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2008.01.004

[3] Samuelowicz, K., and J.D. Bain. 2002. Identifying academics’ orientation to assessment practice. Higher Education 43: 173–201.
DOI: 10.1023/A:1013796916022

[4] Scheja, M. 2002. Contextualising studies in higher education. First-year experiences of studying and learning in engineering. PhD diss., Stockholm University.
Doctoral Thesis: Available Here

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