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What Are Formative And Summative Assessments


Examinations are part and parcel of a student’s life. However, the assessment of a student’s level of proficiency in a subject goes far beyond pen-and-paper tests. To ensure a balanced assessment, both formative and summative assessments are outlined in the new Mathematics syllabus which is implemented this year. The rationale is clear – an overfocus on summative assessment will lead to teaching that concentrates on helping students score in an examination, rather than creating learning opportunities that boose their motivation for learning.


We will explore the two types of assessment in this article.


Formative Assessment

This type of assessment focuses on the desired learning goals and tracks how well students are progressing towards them. Its purpose is to aid students in improving their learning and be self-directed in achieving their goals. Certainly, the end results of the curriculum extend beyond the mere recall of mathematical concepts and formulae. The key emphasis is still on processes like reasoning and communicating which enable students to apply what they know to solve problems. We often encounter non-routine Primary 6 Maths questions which assess students’ abilities to interpret mathematical solutions in the context of the problems and then develop strategies to solve them. To do this, students often have to rely on their reasoning and communication skills to make meaningful connections and integration of ideas across topics.


In the classroom, a variety of teaching methods can be employed to help teachers gain an insight into whether learning is taking place as intended. Diagnostic assessment is a branch of formative assessment in which teachers conduct verbal or written quizzes to draw out students’ knowledge of the content. This type of assessment can also be used for other subjects such as Science. We can get reference from Singapore PSLE Science questions for the variety of questions that can be asked to assess students in this way. By using such tests and assessments, teachers are then able to identify gaps and difficulties in learning and therefore fine-tune their remediation strategies. Class activities are also conducted to allow teachers to observe how students solve problems. In addition, individual and group tasks can be assigned to give students opportunities to apply their knowledge and at the same time, assess their own performances.


Summative Assessment

This type of assessment focuses on students’ acquisition of the required skills set at the end of instruction. It mainly comprises tests and examinations conducted at specific points of the learning process. As the results of these assessments are used for streaming and progression purposes, the standards are pitched suitably and consistently to provide exact information of students’ mastery level and teachers’ effectiveness in imparting the required knowledge. Therefore, it is useful for students to practise the questions found in free test papers. Caution, though, has to be exercised when looking through the solutions of such papers from online resources. For students who are more adept in the subject matter and who aim for stellar grades, top school papers are a good resource.


In summative assessments, students have to take note of the weighting of each topic. Topics that are included in the syllabus will be tested in tests and examinations. In addition, the overall difficulty level of a paper is usually of concern to students. There will be an appropriate distribution of easy, moderate and difficult questions to reflect the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

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