Types of Student Assessments and their Purpose and Differences

Student with books and laptop doing assignment
We outline the different types of assessments that will best suit your teaching objectives

What Types of Student Assessments are used by Educators?

1. Traditional Assessments

Assessments can take on various forms and often serve different purposes. The majority of instructors use traditional assessments to measure student learning. Traditional assessments usually involve various testing techniques such as fill-in-the-blanks, multiple-choice questions (MCQs), essays, mid-term, as well as a final examination. [2] These assessments are cost-efficient with regards to time and resource allocation; however, they do not provide the instructor and learner with the required amount of feedback on student learning progress. 

Traditional methods of student assessments hinder the ability of educators to apply a new teaching approach. [3] Typically, they are single-occasion tests and measure only what students can do at a specific time. Therefore, the grades obtained from these assessments do not provide insights on students’ knowledge development and can sometimes relay false information regarding the academic progression of the entire class. Since traditional assessments do not offer any forms of self-evaluation or feedback-on-feedback, it inhibits students’ learning as they cannot effectively reflect on their strengths and weaknesses to improve their performance. [4] 

To address these downsides of traditional assessments, such as lack of feedback, educators employ improved student assessments, including diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments. 

2. Diagnostic Assessments

Diagnostic assessments, also known as ‘Pre-tests,’ are used by educators to identify and evaluate students’ current knowledge about a specific topic or subject. [5]


The main purpose of this assessment is to diagnose complications in students’ understanding and learning gaps. This assessment method helps educators decide their next teaching steps based on students’ unique learning needs identified through diagnostic assessments. Diagnostic assessments help educators assess the capabilities and skill sets of students in a specific subject. Educators use diagnostic assessments to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses that allow them to plan their course, learning objectives, and teaching strategies.

Diagnostic assessments usually take place at the beginning of the term so that the current position of students' understanding of topic or subject could be evaluated by the instructors. Such assessments are usually low-stake as they are not calculated as student grades. This assessment method is usually based on written questions which can be either short answers or multiple-choice questions. Educators also use various strategies to diagnose the knowledge base and skills of students, including observation protocol, rubric, and oral or written test questions. 

3. Formative Assessments

Educators use formative assessment to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback. [6] This assessment enables educators to check whether students are on the right learning track and find specific areas where students are struggling. This assessment allows educators to offer an individualized learning experience to students. 


The formative assessment’s core purpose is to monitor the students’ ongoing learning and identify their learning gaps. [7] Formative assessment provides educators with continuous feedback, which helps them improve their teaching approach. With this assessment’s help, educators try to evolve the students' understanding before the summative evaluation occurs. 

This assessment method refers to the guiding evaluation that helps educators form their lessons’ instructions according to the learning needs. Formative assessments can be easily implemented and offer immediate results so that educators can instantly make adjustments in their instructions. 

Such assessments can take various forms, including practice quizzes, informal questions (class discussion), one-minute papers, and so on. These methods help educators gain insight into students’ learning during the ongoing unit/topic. Overall, formative assessments offer instructors feedback about students’ current understanding of the topic and how to pick up the pace. This assessment method also encourages students to test their knowledge and practice skills without worrying about grades. 

However, formative evaluation is no doubt a time-consuming and resource-intensive process if they are conducted on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. This is because formative assessments require frequent data collection, data analysis, reporting and refinement of educators’ pedagogical strategies. At Kritik, professors use formative assessments and peer review strategies to give students and their peers formative feedback. Consequently, students are encouraged to improve their learning, writing and critical thinking skills. Peer reviews also help students develop their self-assessment skills, thereby becoming more involved in their learning. [8]    

4. Summative Assessments

Unlike diagnostic and formative assessment, summative assessments are used by educators to evaluate the learning of students when the term ends. Educators compare this assessment against a set of standards/benchmarks. [9] 


Summative assessments also refer to the final exams or final projects. This assessment’s purpose is to evaluate how much students retained information, knowledge, and skills at the end of the learning unit or semester. 

Moreover, summative assessments are used to measure the educational environment, including curricula, educators, and overall learning programs. Also, the results derived from summative assessments offer a comprehensive description of the student's learning status. Usually, educators use standard summative assessments with a common rubric to judge and compare students’ learning. These assessments are commonly comprised of final projects, essays, presentations, reports, or standardized tests.  

On the flip side, summative assessments also have limitations. For instance, this assessment can be disruptive for students as they are regarded as the final grades with high stakes. Moreover, summative assessments lack feedback and therefore, are not considered being the best reflection for student learning. Nevertheless, formative assessments offer ongoing feedback that encourages students to enhance their learning and overall academic performance but consumes a lot of the instructors’ time and resources.

5. "No Grading" Assessments 

Many educators are now shifting their focus from traditional grading towards no-grading assessments. In their viewpoint, traditional assessments and their grading render the development of authentic relationships in the classroom and reduce the students’ motivation and creativity. Besides, grading assessments also foster the fear of failure among students while undermining their interest in the subject. [10] In contrast, this model of no-grading assessments put emphasis on providing feedback to encourage student learning through self-reflection, collaboration, and critical thinking. Feedback highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the student, allowing them to reflect on and learn from it. No-grading assessments are great in remote learning as it promotes interaction between students and thereby strengthening the sense of community in an online classroom. [11]

Differences between Diagnostic, Formative, and Summative Assessments

Timing and Resource Allocation

One of the major differences between these student assessments is timing and resource allocation. Diagnostic assessments are executed before starting the lesson or unit. However, formative assessments refer to the ongoing activity, and therefore, are executed during the learning process. On the other hand, summative assessments often occur either as the mid-term exams or final exams after completing the unit. Out of all the three, summative assessments are commonly used but they consume a lot of time and resources to provide quality feedback to every student.


Additionally, the strategies to evaluate students’ learning can differ between diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments. For instance, in diagnostic assessments, instructors strive to get information about students’ current understanding of the unit/topic right before starting instructions. Educators use formative assessments to examine whether students are on the right path by monitoring their ongoing learning progress. However, summative assessments help educators assess whether students have achieved their learning objectives or not, which is determined by their final grades. Unfortunately, summative assessments don't allow students to retain information at a high level. In contrast, formative assessments help students retain learning through ongoing feedback. [12] 


In each assessment method, the major goal of educators is to promote student learning through evaluation. 

At Kritik, our educators curate new and improved courses using the students’ insights that are derived from formative assessments. Professors at Kritik know that every student requires personalized feedback, which serves as the roadmap for their improvement. In this regard, formative assessments are conducted on a weekly basis. Based on the ongoing feedback obtained through formative assessments, students are encouraged to focus on their own learning rather than worrying about grades. Thus, formative assessment tends to be the most effective assessment that enables students to reach higher-order thinking of learning.

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[1] Walker, D. M. (2012). Classroom assessment techniques: An assessment and student evaluation method. Creative Education, 3(6A).

[2] Quansah, F. (2018). Traditional or performance assessment: What is the right way in assessing learners. Res Hum Soc Sci, 8, 21-4.

[3] Jacob, S. M., Issac, B., & Sebastian, Y. (2006). Impact on student learning from traditional continuous assessment and an e-assessment proposal. PACIS 2006 Proceedings, 63.

[4] Nasab, F. G. (2015). Alternative versus traditional assessment. Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research, 2(6), 165-178.

[5] Jang, E. E., & Wagner, M. (2013). Diagnostic feedback in the classroom. The companion to language assessment, 2, 693-711.

[6] Menéndez, I. Y. C., Napa, M. A. C., Moreira, M. L. M., & Zambrano, G. G. V. (2019). The importance of formative assessment in the learning-teaching process. International journal of social sciences and humanities, 3(2), 238-249.

[7] Assessment for Learning Formative Assessment [https://www.oecd.org/site/educeri21st/40600533.pdf]

[8]  Baker, K. M. (2016). Peer review as a strategy for improving students’ writing process. Active Learning in Higher Education, 17(3), 179-192.

[9] Qu, W., & Zhang, C. (2013). The analysis of summative assessment and formative assessment and their roles in college English assessment system. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 4(2), 335.

[10] Butler, R. & Nisan, M. (1986). Effects of No Feedback, Task-Related Comments, and Grades on Intrinsic Motivation and Performance. Journal of Educational Psychology. 78. 210-216. 10.1037/0022-0663.78.3.210

[11] Nicholas Croft, Alice Dalton & Marcus Grant (2010) Overcoming Isolation in Distance Learning: Building a Learning Community through Time and Space, Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 5:1, 27-64, DOI: 10.11120/jebe.2010.05010027

[12] Judith Dodge, ‘What Are Formative Assessments and Why Should We Use Them?’ https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/what-are-formative-assessments-and-why-should-we-use-them/ 

Jay Arias
Education Researcher