Ever since the idea of formative assessment was expressed by Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black in ‘Inside the Black Box’, one of the practical strategies suggested has been the formative use of summative tests. Typically tests are regarded as something given at the end of a unit of work; often they mark the end point of a learning sequence and provide information about how much each student has learned – or not learned. Left as a summative process, the students’ test marks merely become a record of their success at a point in time – without directly helping them improve. And obviously some students will actually know more than their test performance indicates.
However, used formatively, tests provide an important source of detailed, individualised feedback identifying where each student needs to deepen their understanding and improve their recall of the knowledge they’ve covered.