Feedback a go go! Creating formative assessment opportunities

This past week I was involved in co-delivering a session on Creating Formative Assessment Opportunities, with the lovely people from our CELT department (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching).  I found the session really useful and picked up some great tips on how to get the most out of formative assessments, so I’m going to share these with you now:

Plan, plan plan!

As with most things in life, planning and preparation are the key to success with formative assessments. We all know that students are very strategic with their approaches to learning and tend to put highest emphasis on those tasks with a clear link to the summative assessment, so why not work with this impulse.

When planning your assessment strategy, consider how well your formative tasks prepare your students for the content and mode of the summative assessment.

In other words, if you are asking your students to create a video, write an essay, develop a poster or do an exam for the summative assessment, do your formative assessment opportunities prepare them not only for the content being covered, but the actual form that the assessment takes place?

Try to view your Assessment Strategy across the programme as a whole. If your Level 6 students have not been asked to design an academic poster before they came to you, try to use their formative opportunity to help them to develop the skills, understanding and confidence to produce one in the summative task.

Equally important, from a learning technologist viewpoint, is to not assume that students will be confident with technology. Students come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, for some even the thought of submitting an assignment to Turnitin will create anxieties – ease this by providing a practice area for them to submit to or setting a formative assessment that involves submitting through Turnitin. Ensure that if your summative task involves working with unfamiliar technology that your students get the chance to have a practice and a play before hand.

Formative is fabulous but don’t forget your workload!

One of the most interesting discussions that we had on the day was between the tensions between providing valuable formative opportunities to students and the additional workload for staff involved in the marking and feedback.

One programme team had a brilliantly and carefully structured assessment strategy, where students were scaffolded towards the summative assessment piece, however as student numbers increased this level of support had become unsustainable, so the programme team were looking to explore methods that were less intensive on the staff.

Case Study:

Students’ summative assignment involved a written exam exploring detailed analysis of case studies. In preparation for this exam, the current formative assessment involved the students completing a single case study exam question and submitting this online. Staff would then provide personalised feedback to the student. The formative assessment was highly valued by students and had been demonstrated to show a significant improvement in students attainments if they completed the task.  However, teaching staff were increasingly finding that the amount of time needed to provide the feedback to students was unsustainable.


I discussed with the programme team the potential for using extended multiple-choice questions (EMCQ) as a replacement for the written exercise. The questions would present a case study, and the students would be required to pick the best response from a series of model answers. After completing the EMCQ students would have access to tailored feedback which would explore why (and why not) a choice was incorrect. This would give students a chance to be exposed to a wide range of feedback focusing on commonly made mistakes, as well as exposing them to a number of modelled correct responses. Although this approach would involve work and preparation up front, once completed could be shared each year and taken by the students as many times as they needed to help them get acquainted with the techniques.

Another useful solution reached that day was to consider the formative assessment across the programme and units as a whole. Each unit in the Level 6 programme conducted a final exam, the formative assignment for the assessment involved a formative exam for each unit. This produced a large amount of marking for the team. It was suggested instead that the units could share one formative exam with each supplying a question for the students to complete, dramatically reducing the marking involved, but still providing students with a formative experience of exams.

In summary, try to consider your assessment strategy as part of your whole programme planning. Identify how your formative assessments strategically align to your summative assessments. How do you formative assignments assist your students towards their summative assignment, in both mode and content? Consider both your workload and that of your student, can you make the formative assessment more accessible to you both without dramatically reducing how useful it is?

Featured image: “Gimmie an L! Gimmie an E! Gimmie a G! Gimmie an O! Yaaay!” by Asrar Makrani shared under a  (CC BY-ND 2.0) licence



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