How to Use Formative Assessments Effectively

by | Jul 19, 2022 | Teaching Strategies, Test Prep, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Formative assessments are one of the most important tools in a teacher’s toolbox. When teachers use the data from these assessments, they can increase achievement levels by tailoring lessons to meet students’ needs.

However, formative assessments must be used effectively. Here are five tips for using formative assessments in your classroom.


Your formative assessment should be focused on determining whether students understand the concepts of the lesson. Remember, the purpose of formative assessments is to help you see which students understand the concepts of the lesson and which ones might need more support.


Students should be able to complete the check in a few minutes, and you need to be able to analyze the data fast to determine if you need to reteach or move on. If the formative assessments are too long, they take too much class time to complete. Also, if students understand the concepts well, they will be able to answer the questions quickly.

There are different types of formative assessments, but when I focus on content, I limit the questions to no more than three. The questions might be short response, multiple choice, or  skill-based, but I try to make it so they can be finished in five minutes.



To be truly effective, formative assessments need to be used right after the lesson. Otherwise, you won’t have the data to determine what your students need until after you have moved on. 

You want to plan to have formative assessments after each lesson. If your lesson takes multiple periods, you may want to have a quick check at the end of one period to make sure students understood the first part of the lesson.

Match Your Goal

There are different types of formative assessment you can use. One isn’t better than the other, but they usually give you different information. You need to select a format that matches what you want to know.

For example, perhaps you are teaching a lesson on decimals but didn’t finish. At the end of the period, you may just want to know how students feel about what they understand. You could do a five-finger check, with five being I got it and one meaning they are confused. You could also do a thumbs up, sideways thumb, or thumbs down. 

However, if you want to know if students have mastered adding decimals, you will need to give them questions that have them actually apply their knowledge. That may be three addition problems, or it could be an addition problem, an error analysis, or a short-response explaining how to add decimals.

Applying Data

Formative assessments are worthless if you don’t use the data to inform instruction. Use the data to decide whether the class is ready for the next step or if you need to reteach. Decide if some students need more support in a small group, or if others are ready for deeper activities. 

No matter how you use it, the data only helps if you actually apply it to your classroom.

If you use formative assessments effectively, students will be better able to master material because you can catch misconceptions or provide support before the summative assessment. 

If you would like to read more about formative assessments, check out these blog posts:

Quick And Effective Formative Assessments

How to Use Interactive Notebook as Formative Assessments

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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