5 Great Formative Assessment Strategies That Never Miss

Valuable guides for students to help them enhance their performance.

Formative assessment strategies in the classroom provide both teachers and students with invaluable information about what students understand, and what they don’t.  These ungraded assessments are valuable guides for students to help them enhance their performance. They also help teachers determine if further instruction is necessary.

When formative assessments are used consistently, and effectively, neither teachers nor students are surprised by their final grades. 

Some formative assessments can take just a few minutes, while others require longer periods of time. The following are 5 great formative assessment strategies for teachers.

Pro-tip: Learn more about effective formative assessment strategies in our bestselling book, Mindful Assessment.

1. Analysis of Student Work

A great deal of information can be learned from students’ homework, tests, and quizzes—especially if the students are required to explain their thinking. When teachers take the time to analyze student work, they gain knowledge about:

  • A student's current knowledge, attitudes, and skills about subject matter
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles
  • Need for further, or special, assistance

The analysis of students’ classroom work allows teachers to modify their instruction so that they will be more effective in the future.

2. Strategic Questioning Strategies

Questioning strategies may be used with individuals, small groups, or the entire class.  Effective formative assessment strategies involve asking students to answer well-thought-out, higher-order questions such as “why” and “how.” Higher-order questions require more in-depth thinking from the students, and help the teacher discern the level and extent of the students’ understanding. You can find plenty of question prompts on our Critical Thinking Cheatsheet.

Another strategic questioning strategy used in formative assessment is to give the students a "wait time" to respond. Studies have found that most students become more engaged in classroom dialogue when higher-order questions are combined with a wait period.

3. Think-Pair-Share

This is one of the many formative assessment strategies that is simple for teachers to use. The instructor asks a question, and students write down their answers.  Students are then placed in pairs to discuss their responses.

Teachers are able to move around the classroom and listen to various discussions, gaining insight into an individual’s levels of understanding. 

After a time, the students discuss their responses with the entire class.

Research has indicated that when students are responsible for their own learning, their performance is enhanced. This is another benefit of formative assessment strategies, especially this one.

4. Exit/Admit Tickets

A simple but effective formative assessment is the Exit Ticket. Exit Tickets are small pieces of paper, or index cards, that students deposit as they leave the classroom. 

Students are required to write down an accurate interpretation of the main idea behind the lesson taught that day, and then provide more detail about the topic.

Teachers review the responses, and gain insight as to which students have fully learned the concept, and those that are still struggling. The information obtained can be used to plan a whole-group or partial-group lesson to re-teach the concept.

Admit Tickets are done at the very beginning of the class. Students may respond to questions about homework, or on the lesson taught the day before.

5. One-Minute Papers

One-minute papers are usually done at the end of the day. 

Students in groups (or individually) are asked to answer a brief question in writing. 

The papers are collected and analyzed by the instructor to gain awareness of the students’ understanding. One-minute papers have been found to be more effective when done on a frequent basis. Typical questions posed by teachers center around:

  • Main point
  • Most surprising concept
  • Questions not answered
  • Most confusing area of topic
  • What question from the topic might appear on the next test?

Without formative assessments, the first indication that a student doesn’t grasp the material is when they fail a quiz or a test. Effective and engaging formative assessment strategies like this can take failure out of the classroom.