Teaching Hub

A Crash Course in Assessment Vocabulary

Types of Assessment

Formative assessments

Formative assessments informally measure a student’s understanding of a concept or concepts and thus have very low stakes or are not graded at all. Formative assessments are used to gauge the effectiveness of teaching, “check in” with students to make sure they are learning the course material and to provide students with immediate, qualitative feedback.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam

Formative assessments usually offer information about the learning environment instead of what is being learned.

Examples of formative assessments include

Summative assessments

A summative assessment formally measures student learning at a particular time in a quantifiable way. In other words, this type of assessment aims to clearly and logically “summarize” learning at a specific point in the semester. Whereas formative assessments evaluate the environment for learning, summative assessments measure learning itself (quality, rate, etc.).

Examples of summative assessments include

  • Tests
  • Quizzes
  • Exams
  • Graded papers

Direct Assessment Measures

Direct assessment measures look at or analyze student work to demonstrate that a specific type of learning has occurred. In other words, they are quantitative measures used to chart the progression, quality, rate, etc. of student learning.

Direct assessment measures include the analysis of

  • The results of final exams
  • The results of capstone projects
  • The results of senior thesis projects
  • The results on exhibitions or performances

Indirect Assessment Measures

Indirect assessment measures involve looking at or analyzing student-derived responses to or opinions of their own learning and the learning experience. The results often imply that learning has taken place rather than document it specifically; they are a qualitative measure used to understand, for example, student satisfaction of the learning process, a student’s sense of his or her own best learning practices or learning environment, student opinions of instruction, etc.

Indirect assessment measures include the analysis of

  • The results of a student exit survey (from a course or from a program/degree)
  • Self-assessments
  • Student opinions of instruction
  • Career path or placement after graduation

Helpful tip: Formative and summative indicate types of assessment. Direct and Indirect measures are methods for measuring student learning.

Related Terms

Assessment measure: An assignment or task that is directed toward student learning, which may be summative or formative and whose results are evaluated directly or indirectly.

Student learning outcome (SLO): An idea, concept, method, etc. that the student is expected to learn upon successful completion of a class.

Rubric: A grading tool used by individual instructors to assess the achievement of a particular student learning outcome (from a test, essay, project, etc.).

Matrix: The chart used by The University of Alabama to organize and record data related to the QEP.

Quality enhancement plan (QEP): A program put into place by accrediting bodies (e.g., SACS) that reflects and affirms an institution’s commitment to learning in higher education. QEPs are based on the idea that student learning — and thus the caliber of that learning — is the mission of all institutions of higher learning.

QEPs usually begin by identifying an area for improvement, and then they outline the means or measures by which the institution will improve and provide an assessment of those means that indicates that improvement has taken place.

See the University of Alabama’s QEP.