Is assessment in education beneficial or not?

This week I have decided to write a blog discussing whether assessing pupils and students in educational environments is beneficial or not and will be discussing the formative vs. summative assessment debate.

Assessment in learning environments has been previously defined as the act or purpose of gathering data in order to gain a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of student learning (Thomas, 2007). According to Chris Rust (2002) the purpose of assessment in learning is beneficial for a range of different reasons including motivation, creating learning opportunities, to provide feedback, in order to grade, and as a mechanism to assure the quality of learning and understanding. Moreover Gareis (2007) stated that assessments play an essential role in public schools in order to provide equal and impartial educational opportunities to all students.

Furthermore, Rust (2002) proposed that there are two different types of assessments. One being the formative type and the other being the summative type. He stated that because formative assessments such as assignments and essays involve providing students with feedback which they can use in order to improve their performances in the future, students and pupils benefit from being assigned to these types of tasks. However summative assessments such as end of semester exams provide only a single grade as a form of feedback and therefore Rust (2002) argued that whilst assessments are beneficial in educational environments, it is essential that education is not too often focused on the summative form of assessment as students will benefit much more from opportunities on which they can build on their personal strengths and learn from the mistakes that they make through the feedback that is provided from the formative type of assessing.

Dominic & Harry (2009) published an article that supports the argument that was made by Rust (2002). They reviewed previous research and other evidence regarding the development of the national curriculum assessment in England since 1988 and it’s impact on both teachers and pupils. They too concluded that a greater use of formative assessment strategies and providing feedback from the teacher to the pupil in primary schools are more beneficial.

Weimer (2010) claimed that up to 50% of students admit to ‘cramming’ information before an exam or a test. Weimer suggests that when students cram, the information is stored in the short-term memory and will not enter the long-term memory. Students in the high-cramming category will only remember 27% of the content after 150 weeks of the course ending. They suggested that summative assessments including essay and multiple-choice exams encourage this type of study and therefore support previous arguments that formative assessments are more beneficial to learning.

However Thomas (2007) suggested that examinations are equally as important in education because they allow students to demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired throughout a specific learning period and to also demonstrate the students’ ability to process that knowledge in order to use it within a context.

There is a limited amount of evidence in order to suggest that summative assessments are beneficial to educational environments whilst many theorists who have reviewed previous research and evidence argue that formative assessments are essential to learning. Therefore I conclude that whilst assessing students and pupils is important, it is essential to include formative methods to an academic environment whilst exams, tests and other forms of summative assessments are not effective and therefore are not absolutely necessary in education.

Dominic. W., Harry. T. (2009). The development and consequences of national assessment curriculum for primary education in England. Educational research. 51. 2. 213-228.

Gareis. C. (2007). Reclaiming an important teacher competency: The lost art of formative assessment. Journal of personnel evaluation in education. 20. 1-2.

Rust. C. (2007). Principles and purposes of assessments. Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development. 1.

Thomas. S. (2007). Exams as learning experiences: One nutty idea after another. Beyond tests and quizzes: Creative assessments in the college classroom. 71-83.

Weimer. M. (2010). Why students cram for exams. Retrieved from: on February 2013.


5 thoughts on “Is assessment in education beneficial or not?

  1. Hi Ffion,

    Interesting topic, I imagine the word ‘assessment’ still instills fear into the majority of us, after years in education!
    I agree that there are a number of benefits (generally) of using assessments in education.

    However, it’s also important to highlight that there a number of different ways we can assess students and that some prove more effective or ‘fair’ than others…

    McAlpine (2002) reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of formal vs. informal assessments. The paper suggests that formal assessments such as exams and essays are usually considered to be the ‘fairer’ of the two. Yet evidence shows they can often induce high levels of stress, meaning students can perform less-well than they would’ve in a more informal ‘assessment’. And similarly, some students may cram producing reasonable results – without a deep level of understanding. Therefore this doesn’t provide us with a good overview of how well students have understood content. – I’m inclined to agree on a personal level. I know that I don’t always perform well in exam conditions, regardless of my understating of a module.

    Research also suggests that we assessments must be thought out throroughly. Palomba & Banta (1999) note that assessment-planning is essential in order to produce a fair estimate of a students understanding.

    So overall, though i believe assessments should play a role in education as it helps us cement our knowledge and understanding. Its also important that the assessments are constructed in such a way that they genuinely test our understanding fairly.


    Sources & References:
    McAlpine, M. (2002) Principles of assessment (Luton, CAA Centre).
    Palomba, C. A. & Banta, T. W. (1999) Assessment essentials: planning, implementing and improving assessment in higher education

  2. Hi Ffion,

    Your blog is an interesting read and after reading your blog and looking online I also am in the viewpoint that formative assessments is better than summative assessment. Black & William (1998) showed that feedback in formative assessment on an essay a student has written result in a positive benefit on learning and achievement across all content areas, knowledge in all levels of education.

    By receiving feedback on their formative assessment the individual can observe were they lost marks by focusing on the feedback comment and could strengthen their skill to self asses their own work in the future (Yorke, 2003).

    I personally belief the problem with summative assessment is that the whole mark is down to one assessment unlike formative assessment were essays and exams are taken into consideration and that one exam could affect them. A reason is that they may be having a down day or feeling ill on that particular day which could affect their performance. This is supported by Broadfoot (2000) who claims summative assessments is negative and a destructive side effect of assessment which could devalue personal worth and future prospect.

    Black, P. & William, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education. 5(1), 7-74.

    Broadfoot (2000)

    Yorke, M. (2003) Formative assessment in higher education: Moves towards theory and the enhancement of pedagogic practice. Higher education. 45(4) 447 – 501.

  3. Research by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) further agreed with your consensus, that formative assessments help develop individuals’ own self-regulated learning. They argue that students are constantly assessing their own work (Indeed, I constantly assess what I’m typing, even this right now, and this…), generating their own feedback. Higher education should aim to build upon this ability. Teachers should aid students in developing rationale and logic in what they’re writing.

    If a student is able to self-regulate their own work, I believe it will develop their intrinsic motivation for learning and increase their self efficacy related to education. If students know what they’re being marked on, they’ll feel more in control of any assignment their fulfilling. The marking criteria for summative and formative assessments aren’t too different in the way they award marks for rational concise arguments, just that they expect differing levels of depth. Formative assessments you can complete in much more detail as you can use technological aids, especially in assignments.

  4. I found this blog interesting to read, as I can relate to it myself; I’d much prefer formative assessments in comparison to summative assessments purely due to the cramming I do before an exam! I’m pretty sure most of us have regretted not preparing thoroughly for an exam!

    I agree with your point you made about formative assessments providing more feedback the students can build on. Students then have the ability to realise where they went wrong in the assignment and question any answers they believe that should have gained higher grades (Juwah, Masfarlane-Dick,Matthew, Nicol, Ross & Smith, 2004). Understanding of the work can then be enhanced with thorough feedback. You mentioned the fact that many students have a tendency to cram during exams; I completely agree. With the use of summative assessments, I don’t think it is reliable due to the fact students will be receiving one single grade at the end. In my opinion, summative assessments do not show what the individual is actually capable of doing. It doesn’t explore other aspects of the course!

    I researched into different assessments which are being used and also found similar findings. Marino, Clarkson, Mills, Sweeney and DeMeo (2000) researched into written examinations in comparison to poster examinations. They reported that students enjoyed the poster exam much more, along with increased communication and organisation skills being developed. A more in depth knowledge about the subject was also apparent with the poster examinations. If this is the case, then why aren’t more high schools taking this form of assessment into consideration?
    We are lucky in university that we are getting assessed in various forms; oral presentations, exams and written assignments. However, I do believe that exams put too much pressure on students; we cannot transfer all the knowledge we have about a subject effectively in a short period of time!

    Thank you! 🙂

    Juwah, c., Masfarlane-Dick, D., Matthew, B., Nicol, D., Ross, D., & Smith, B. (2004). Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback. The Higher Education Academy Generic Centre.
    Marino, R., Clarkson, S., Mills, P. A., Sweeney, W. V., & DeMeo, S. (2000). Using poster sessions as an alternative to written examinations – The Poster Exam. Jounral of Chemical Education, 77, 1158. Doi:10.1021/ed077p1158

  5. This blog was hugely relevant due to the fact that I have just been watching on the news the planned reforms to the current GCSE examinations. In short, the government were going to go back to an O Level style examination, with just one examining board. Now this makes sense as tests can be standardised and one does not carry the risk of different exams from different exam boards being harder or easier than others. However, this idea has been scrapped, but the notion of scrapping coursework maintained.

    As you stated, coursework is a formative assessment, which provides students with constructive feedback. Additionally, some students do not perform well in exams due to the stress and pressure of the examination process (Cassady & Johnson, 2002) and therefore, alternative formative methods should be use. The failure to acknowledge this by the proposed changes to GCSE examinations is hugely disappointing and demonstrates the current infuriating tendancy for educational bodies to ignore the empirical evidence out there.

    I am generally better at assignments rather than exams, but this difference is very slight so I am quite lucky in that respect. However, it is always annoying when we are not given any feedback on our exams when it would be beneficial for us to know where we went right or wrong. If it is decided that formative methods should be abandoned, educators should ensure that feedback on exams is given instead. If this does not occur, we risk students feeling hopeless and unmotivated.


    Cassady, J. C., & Johnson, R. E. (2002). Cognitive test anxiety and academic performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27(2), 270-295

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