Assessment and feedback essentials 1: Choosing types of assessment 

1. Types of

2. Marking

3. Fair

4. Giving

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This page contains essential guidance on formative and summative assessment, and different formats of assessment you could use, along with helpful hints and tips of where to start.

Formative and summative assessment


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Formative assessment

For staff:

  • To monitor student learning
  • To ascertain progress
  • To check understanding
  • To teach responsively

For students:

  • To evaluate their own learning
  • To build knowledge
  • To identify strengths and weaknesses
  • To continually improve learning
  • To target learning

Formative assessment can be informal, done within class, and with no associated module marks or weighting. You can also include formative assessment more formally in a module. This could either be as a pass/fail element which does not impact on the final grade , or an assessment that carries module marks. The most essential element of formative assessment is quality feedback.

Formative assessment can be a ‘practice’ for a summative assessment. This will familiarise students with the assessment type and also provide formative feedback that students can use for their final assessment. Formative assessment can also be used as part of the process of supporting students to reflect on their own learning. This is an inclusive approach to assessment, especially when the method of assessment is new and unfamiliar. It may help to lessen students’ anxieties, and develop their assessment literacy.

Examples of formative assessment:

  • In-class or online quizzes
  • ‘Homework’ tasks discussed in seminars
  • Peer feedback activities
  • Submitting a blog post for feedback in advance of a longer piece of summative reflective writing
  • Problem-solving classes
  • Practice exams

Summative assessment

Summative assessment usually happens at the end of a learning unit.

For staff:

  • To measure whether a student has met the learning outcomes and to what extent at the end of a unit of study
  • To make further improvements in teaching in future iterations

For students:

  • To understand their overall performance in a unit of study
  • To understand whether they have met the learning outcomes, and to what extent, at the end of a unit of study.

Examples of assessments that could be used summatively:

  • Written unseen exams
  • Multiple choice question (MCQ) exams
  • Open book exams
  • Seen exams
  • Essay submissions
  • Dissertations
  • Digital assets (video, audio, website)
  • Portfolios

Both formative and summative assessment are ways to understand student learning, opportunities to give and receive feedback, and ways to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching. Aim to provide a balance of formative and summative assessment over a unit of study.


 What you can do

  • Have a play around with different digital learning tools like TurningPoint or the tools within Blackboard Collaborate to construct quizzes and opinion polls to use as informal, in-class formative assessment.
  • Make sure you give students a chance to practice for summative assessment, especially if it is likely to be a type of assessment they have not previously encountered.


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Types of assessment

There is a wealth of different formats and types of assessment you could use. To decide what type of assessment to implement, you first need to make sure that the assessment is valid and relevant.

Valid - does the assessment method allow the assessor to measure the learning outcome it is designed to assess?

Your curriculum should be ‘constructively aligned’ (Biggs and Tang 2011). In constructive alignment, we start with the outcomes we intend students to learn, and design teaching and assessment that enables those outcomes to be developed, achieved and measured.

It is important to choose an appropriate method for measuring that learning outcome.

Learning Outcome Assessment Type
To summarise research to date in the field of parent-teacher-pupil learning contracts. Literature review.
Design and run an experiment to characterise the yeast profile of a given sample. Lab report.
To communicate a recent scientific research topic to a lay-audience. Video, newspaper article, podcast etc.
To evaluate historical sources and present a justified and coherent argument for a given position. Essay


Relevant - is the assessment method authentic and relevant to the student journey?

Assessment can be a useful way of enabling students to develop a wide range of capabilities beyond academic skills, including the wider Sheffield Graduate Attributes. Assessment methods that relate to their future likely careers will also be more relevant.

Subject discipline Example assessment type
Business Management SWOT analysis
Information management Market intelligence report
Archaeology Desk-based heritage assessment
Chemistry Lab report


Assessment types

Below is a list of some types of assessment currently being used within TUoS. The list isn’t exhaustive, but gives you an idea of the range and possibilities with assessment:

  • Exam - essay questions
  • Exam - open book
  • Professional reports
  • Creative writing
  • Reflections
  • Lab reports
  • Dissertations
  • Competency tests
  • Field reports
  • Exam - short answer questions
  • Group assessment
  • Pitches
  • Journals/blogs
  • Posters
  • Lay-summaries
  • Small research projects
  • Oral defence (viva)
  • Lab books
  • Exam - multiple choice questions
  • Presentation
  • Digital assets (e.g. video, audio, websites
  • Case studies
  • Campaign plans
  • Research proposals
  • Methodologies
  • Business plans
  • Portfolios

Image for case study: Students in the Information School.

Case study: Using a variety of assessments

The Information School has implemented a varied range of assessments, relevant to the wide range of learning outcomes that students are set.

Assessment methods include writing essays, writing reports based on a brief from a local company, creating a web site or designing a content management system, making a short film, undertaking an evaluation of a local information service and preparing a group presentation, and writing a reflective diary analysing their experiences as a manager.

For taught Masters students, assessment is by coursework (rather than examination) and for undergraduates some modules are 100% coursework assessed, and the remainder has the majority of the assessment by coursework.


What you can do

  • Go back to the learning outcomes for your programme or module - are the assessment methods you have chosen constructively aligned?
  • Refresh your knowledge on electronic submission methods (and their benefits), and get started on setting up online assessments.
  • Talk to our Careers service or external employers about assessment types that build students' skills.


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View a case study on the PLA project site from the Department of Psychology, which shows a method of redeveloping assessment schedules to spread deadlines and varieties of assessment throughout the year.

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