The literature on assessment often highlights negative effects of examinations and standardised tests. Literature supporting such assessment is available but can be harder to locate. Section A (Sources) below includes arguments making the case for the use of assessment of learning. Similar articles can be found online, in journals and on the websites of various education ministries and testing agencies.

Review some of that literature using the questions in Section B (Issues to consider) to guide your reading. Then identify four or five points that support the use of summative assessment to improve students’ learning (Section C, ‘The case for summative assessment’).

Section A. Selected Sources

Brown, G. T. L., & Hattie, J. A. (2012). The benefits of regular standardized assessment in childhood education: Guiding improved instruction and learning. In S. Suggate & E. Reese (Eds.), Contemporary debates in child development and education (pp. 287–292). London: Routledge. Access at:

This book chapter outlines how standardised tests can be used to improve teaching and learning.

Morris, A. (2011). Student standardised testing: Current practices in OECD Countries and a Literature Review, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 65. Paris: OECD Publishing. Access at:

This short paper focuses on how standardised tests that have low stakes for students can be used to improve teaching and learning. In particular, Sections 4 and 5 focus on potential positive impacts of standardised tests.

Murphy, C., Lundy, L., Emersen, L., & Kerr, K. (2013). Children’s perceptions of primary science assessment in England and Wales. British Educational Research Journal, 39(3), 585–606.

This article considers how a range of assessments, including standardised tests, impact on students, from the students’ point of view. In particular, it explores the effects of tests on students’ attitudes towards science.

Section B. Issues to Consider

1.   Identify 3–4 summative assessments that are used by teachers. What is the main purpose of each assessment?

2.   Identify 3–4 formative assessments that are used by teachers. What is the main purpose of each assessment?

3.   How do the assessments identified in 1 and 2 above differ in terms of: format, frequency of administration, duration of administration, workload for students and teachers, types of feedback provided to students and teachers?

4.   To what extent are the assessments you identified in 1 and 2 above designed to improve the learning of individual students in class? How is such improvement helped by the assessment(s)?

5.   How can students use summative assessment to achieve better in class?

6.   How can teachers use summative assessment to help students learn?

7.   Many summative assessments are designed and implemented in class by the teacher. Others are designed by external agencies such as state agencies, examination boards, commercial companies and researchers. What are the advantages of assessments made by teachers? Made by external agencies?

8.   What role can ICT play in summative assessment of students? How feasible is this approach to assessment? For teacher-made assessments? For externally-developed assessments?

9.   How can assessments using ICT (for example, computerised tests) promote student learning?

10. Assessment results are frequently used, either wholly or in part, to select students at the end of secondary school for entry into particular course in University or other third level institution. Imagine if assessment results were not used at all in this process. What do you think the outcome of such a policy would be? For students? For individual Colleges? For society?

11. What if assessment of learning was discontinued at primary school level? How would decision-making by teachers be affected?

Download Section C and identify four or five points that support the use of summative assessment to improve students’ learning in your own words.'

Activity 3.1– Improving Student Learning: The Case for Summative Assessment