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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 24  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 651

Formative versus Summative Assessment

Cairo University School of Medicine, Cairo, Egypt

Date of Submission04-Apr-2011
Date of Acceptance21-May-2011
Date of Web Publication10-Aug-2011

Correspondence Address:
S H Aboulsoud
4 Ahmed Soukarno St., flat no. 8, Agouza, Giza
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 22081662

How to cite this article:
Aboulsoud S H. Formative versus Summative Assessment. Educ Health 2011;24:651

How to cite this URL:
Aboulsoud S H. Formative versus Summative Assessment. Educ Health [serial online] 2011 [cited 2022 Jan 19];24:651. Available from:

Dear Editor,

Choosing the proper timing of learner assessment is a challenge for medical educators.

Terminal or summative assessment takes place at the conclusion of a course of study and is the learner assessment approach most often used in postgraduate medical education. In agreement with othersí recommendations1,2 my viewpoint is that, for postgraduate students, ongoing or formative assessment should be given more weight than terminal or summative assessment.

Considering postgraduate education as a form of work-based learning, ongoing assessment during normal work activities can frame a better picture of studentsí overall performance. Further, the educational value of formative assessment might have more impact on an individual studentís learning than terminal assessment, provided that it is conducted in a threat-free environment that allows the student to reveal both strengths and weaknesses. Formative assessment has a positive impact on learning because it not only motivates and encourages students to be involved in the process, but it also monitors and provides students with real-time feedback on their performance3. Further, formative assessment helps shape the studentsí future learning, and helps ensure that students progress in their learning and future academic achievement.

For formative assessment to yield valid and reliable results it should be implemented in a way that ascertains learnersí knowledge, understanding and skills. Assessors can apply different tools to assess their students over time. Examples include observation of task performance and gathering of information on what students†know, understand and can do, for instance during ward rounds, case discussions and research activities. These assessments should be curriculum-based and the skills tested should be those previously taught. For formative assessment to be effective and fruitful, it should be followed by immediate feedback to the learner. Some key principles of constructive feedback include providing clear expectations of studentsí performance, acknowledging students' efforts towards achieving goals and objectives, identifying areas that need further improvement, and motivating students to increase their efforts4.

Formative assessment not only assesses studentsí achievements but it also is a powerful diagnostic tool that enables students to recognize the areas in which they are having difficulty and to concentrate their future efforts on those areas5. Formative assessment also benefits the teachers by allowing them to monitor the impact of their teaching on studentsí understanding and behaviour so that they can modify their pedagogical strategies when needed.

Samar Aboulsoud, MD
Assistant Professor in Internal Medicine, Cairo University, Egypt
Visiting Specialist in Medical Education, Hamad Medical Corporation, Qatar


1.†Rushton A. Formative assessment: a key to deep learning? Medical Teacher. 2005; 27(6):509-513.

2.†Yorke M. Formative assessment in higher education: Moves towards theory and the enhancement of pedagogic practice. Higher Education. 2003; 45(4):477-501.

3.†Newble D, Cannon R. A handbook for medical teachers. 4th edition. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers; 2002.

4.†Hamid Y, Mahmood S. Understanding constructive feedback: A commitment between teachers and students for academic and professional development. The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association. 2010; 60(3): 224-227.

5.†Walkin L. The assessment of performance and competence: A handbook for teachers and trainers. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes; 1991.


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