Summative Assessment

Did my students learn what I wanted them to learn?

On this page:

What Is summative assessment?

Summative assessments are the assessments we’re most familiar with such as quizzes, exams, essays and a variety of other instruments. They occur after the learning activities have been completed and are an assessment of what changes happened in your students.

Best practices

Direct and indirect methods

Try to use direct methods over indirect methods. Direct methods allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do; indirect methods help us infer what students know and can do.

  • Direct methods
    • Objective tests
    • Written assignments
    • Performance of authentic tasks
    • Portfolios
  • Indirect methods
    • Student surveys
    • Course evaluations
    • Grades

Test blueprints: align assessments to cognitive levels

Course learning outcomes written at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (see Bloom's Taxonomy) call for different types of assessments.

Objective measures, such as quizzes, tests and exams are most appropriate for lower order thinking skills, such as recognizing and remembering course concepts and applying these concepts to disciplinary or real world problems/situations. It is much more difficult to write closed-ended exam items that address higher order thinking skills, and for these skills, the most appropriate assessments are probably lab exercises or research papers.

In order to have alignment between learning outcomes, content and the cognitive level you’re engaging, a test blueprint can help. Once this has been completed it then becomes clear at what levels individual test questions should be created.

For example, if you only expect students to have knowledge of a topic, then you wouldn’t ask them to analyze that topic. Test blueprints can help ensure that each question on your exam is serving both a specific and a correct purpose.

Constructing Objective Measures of Learning (Van Zile-Tamsen, 2017 ) outlines the process of test construction, from conceptualization to administration to item analysis.

An additional consideration concerns test question banks that come with textbooks. It is important to remember that these items have been submitted by people just like you and that they have not been tested and analyzed. While it is acceptable to use these items when they match the content and cognitive levels in your course, these items should be subject to item analysis after they are administered to determine if they operated in expected ways. The voice of the questions alone can be a big factor in whether or not the items operate effectively for your students.

For essays, lab reports and research papers, rubrics are an effective way to ensure that grading is both efficient and consistent across students.

Types of summative assessment

There are many types of summative assessment. The following page lists some ideas for more ways to assess learning objectives.


ePortfolios are purposeful collections of student work that can be used to showcase their efforts and ideas, and act as archives of learning, discovery, progress, achievement and self-reflection.