Formative vs Summative Assessment: What’s the Difference Leave a comment

Confused by the terms “formative” and “summative” assessment? You’re not alone!  

These two types of assessments play crucial roles in education and training, but their purposes and approaches are distinct. Let’s clear up the confusion and unravel the differences between formative and summative assessment. 

In the context of RTOs (Registered Training Organisations) in Australia, both formative and summative assessments play crucial roles in ensuring trainees master the necessary skills and knowledge for their chosen profession. While they share the common goal of measuring learning, their timing, purpose, and impact differ significantly. 

This blog will help you understand not only formative vs summative assessments and the similarities between summative and formative assessments. 

Let’s begin. 

What is a Formative Assessment?

An ongoing process that involves collecting and analysing information about a trainee’s learning progress throughout a training program. Its primary aim is to identify areas needing improvement and provide feedback to inform adjustments in teaching and learning strategies.

Examples of Formative Assessments

  • Quizzes and short tests: These quick assessments gauge understanding of a specific topic or skill area after a lesson or module.
  • Observations: Trainers actively observe trainees during practical tasks to identify strengths and weaknesses in skill performance.
  • Self-reflections: Trainees reflect on their learning progress and identify areas for improvement through journaling or discussion prompts.
  • Exit tickets: Short questions or tasks completed at the end of a session to assess overall understanding and highlight any remaining confusion.

What is a Summative Assessment?

A formal evaluation that takes place at the end of a unit, course, or program to determine whether a trainee has achieved the required competencies outlined in the training standards. It serves as a final measure of learning and contributes to the final qualification or certification.

Examples of Summative Assessments

  • Written exams: Formal tests that assess knowledge and understanding of theoretical concepts covered in the program.
  • Practical skills demonstrations: Trainees perform specific tasks or projects to showcase their proficiency in applying their skills in a real-world context.
  • Presentations: Trainees present their research or findings on a specific topic, demonstrating their communication and critical thinking skills.
  • Portfolio assessments: A collection of work samples and evidence that showcase a trainee’s overall learning journey and competency development.

Formative vs. Summative Assessments

Difference between formative and summative assessment

Imagine learning as a winding jungle path. Both formative and summative assessments guide you through, but they serve distinct purposes at different points. Let’s explore the key differences and equip you to navigate this learning landscape with confidence!


  • Formative assessments are your trail markers, scattered throughout the journey. They offer quick checks at regular intervals, like exit tickets after crossing a clearing or impromptu quizzes after scaling a knowledge peak.
  • Summative assessments are the grand overlooks, stationed at the end of training. They provide panoramic views of your student’s progress, like final exams at the jungle’s edge or performance evaluations when you reach the hidden temple.


  • Formative assessments identify knowledge gaps and point you towards areas needing practice.
  • Summative assessments are like judges at the treasure chamber, assessing whether you’ve acquired the necessary skills to claim the prize. They measure your student’s overall learning against set standards, like judging your navigation skills before entrusting you with the map to the next treasure.

Summative and Formative Assessment’s Format

  • Formative assessments are like playful jungle riddles, engaging and varied. They can be quizzes, observations, self-reflections, or even discussions around a campfire. Think of them as learning games that enhance your student’s knowledge without weighing you down.
  • Summative assessments are like formal jungle trials, rigorous and standardised. They often take the form of written exams, practical tests, or elaborate presentations. Think of them as final challenges testing your student’s mastery before advancing to the next level.

Grade and Feedback of Formative and Summative Assessments

  • Formative assessments are like gentle nudges from a jungle companion, focusing on feedback over grades. They offer guidance and encouragement.
  • Summative assessments are like the final score on your jungle leaderboard, influencing your student’s overall progress. They carry high stakes and determine your student’s official achievement level.

Impact of Summative and Formative Assessments

  • Formative assessments empower you to adapt your jungle route, allowing you to revisit previous sections, explore uncharted paths, or refine your skills based on feedback. They shape your student’s learning experience in real-time.
  • Summative assessments provide a final picture of your jungle trek, validating your progress and indicating your readiness for future adventures. They serve as checkpoints or milestones in your student’s overall learning journey.
Feature Formative Assessment Summative Assessment
Timing Throughout the learning journey At the end of a unit, course, or program
Purpose Identify learning gaps and provide feedback Measure overall achievement and competency
Format Informal and varied (quizzes, observations, self-reflections) Formal and standardised (exams, presentations, practical tests)
Grading and Feedback Low stakes, focuses on formative feedback High stakes, determines final achievement
Impact on Learning Influences the learning journey, allows for adjustments Determines the outcome of the learning journey

Similarities of Summative and Formative Assessment for RTOs in Australia

As RTOs in Australia, you know the value of both formative and summative assessments in guiding your trainees through the vibrant learning jungle. While they may seem distinctly different, like a playful monkey swinging through the trees compared to a wise elder guarding the temple ruins, these forms of assessment share some unexpected common ground. Let’s explore these shared traits and discover how they can work together to create a thriving learning ecosystem for your trainees.

Competency and Confidence: Summative and Formative Assessment

Ultimately, both formative and summative assessments strive for the same prize – competent and confident trainees ready to conquer the industry! Whether it’s a quick quiz during a safety briefing or a final skills demonstration, both assessments aim to ensure your trainees have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.

Feedback: Summative and Formative Assessment

Both formative and summative assessments offer valuable feedback loops that nurture learning. Formative assessments provide immediate feedback, like a friendly nudge from a fellow explorer after taking a wrong turn. Summative assessments, though final, offer insights into overall strengths and weaknesses, like a map marking conquered terrains and uncharted territories. This feedback, regardless of timing, empowers trainees to adjust their learning journey and blossom into skilled professionals.

Data-Driven Decisions: Summative and Formative Assessment

Whether it’s a mid-course quiz or a final competency exam, both assessments generate valuable data about your training program’s effectiveness. This data, like the whispers of the jungle wind, reveals areas for improvement, identifies trainee needs, and allows you to fine-tune your training methods for future cohorts.

Building a Bridge of Trust: Summative and Formative Assessment

Both formative and summative assessments, when implemented transparently and fairly, build trust between you and your trainees. Formative assessments demonstrate your commitment to their ongoing learning, while summative assessments showcase the value and purpose of the training program. This trust fosters a collaborative learning environment where everyone thrives.


As an RTO, navigating the assessment landscape can feel like traversing a dense jungle. But just like a skilled explorer, you possess the tools to guide your trainees towards their learning goals. Remember, formative and summative assessments are not opposing forces, but rather complementary tools in your arsenal. Embrace their unique strengths:

  • Formative assessments as your trail markers, providing constant feedback and allowing you to adjust the learning journey in real-time.
  • Summative assessments as your grand overlooks, offering final evaluations and validating the acquired skills and knowledge.

By weaving these assessments together, you create a dynamic and supportive learning environment where every trainee can flourish. So, step into your role as the ultimate learning guide, utilise the power of both formative and summative assessments, and watch your trainees emerge from the learning jungle, confident and competent, ready to conquer the challenges of their chosen field.

Remember, the choice is yours. Will you create a learning jungle teeming with formative feedback and growth opportunities, or a rigid landscape defined solely by summative checkpoints? The power lies in your hands.

Choose wisely and watch your trainees blossom into the skilled professionals they were destined to be.

Want your Summative and Formative Assessment to be Efficient and Effortless?

Then VET Resources can definitely help. We offer assessments developed by subject matter experts. For free samples and free consults contact us here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a quiz formative or summative?

A quiz can be both formative and summative: Depending on its purpose and timing, it can offer immediate feedback for improvement (formative) or assess overall learning at the end of a unit (summative).

What is the best example of formative assessment?

The best example of formative assessment depends on the context: Observations during practical tasks, exit tickets at the end of lessons, and self-reflections through journaling are all excellent choices.

How do you conduct a summative assessment?

Conducting a summative assessment often involves formal tests, practical demonstrations, or final portfolios: These assess overall competency against set standards, often at the end of a larger learning block.

What are the disadvantages of formative assessment?

Formative assessment can be time-consuming and require ongoing adaptation of teaching plans: It also relies heavily on the teacher’s judgment and skill in providing valuable feedback.

Why use a summative assessment?

Summative assessment provides a clear picture of overall learning achievement: It helps validate training program effectiveness and serves as a final checkpoint for competency confirmation.

Is a rubric a summative assessment?

A rubric can be used for both formative and summative assessment. its clear criteria make it suitable for providing immediate feedback or judging final performance against set standards.

Is a worksheet a formative assessment?

A worksheet can be both formative and summative. If used to check understanding after a lesson, it’s formative. If used as part of a final project, it can contribute to a summative assessment.

The information presented on the VET Resources blog is for general guidance only. While we strive for accuracy, we cannot guarantee the completeness or timeliness of the information. VET Resources is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. Always consult a professional for advice tailored to your circumstances.

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