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How to Write a Summative Essay – Guide with Example

Published by Jamie Walker at March 18th, 2022 , Revised On October 9, 2023

Summative essays are formal assessments or tests developed to compare and evaluate students and assess their aptitude as compared to other students. Summative essays are used to test the results of learning and knowledge over time and are usually criterion-referenced.

A summative essay is a comprehensive piece of writing and will need quite a lot of class time to revise, complete, instruct, edit and draft. This is not a type of assignment that can be revised or improved by students after grading.

The complexity and length of the summative essay will vary depending upon the academic level of the students. Students must comprehend the style and purpose of the assignment to write an effective summative essay.

The summative essay is usually longer than 5 pages. One page comprises of introduction and the rest of the pages have arguments that support the topic. Like other essay types , it ends with a conclusion and a list of references.

Also read: How to write an academic essay

Types of Summative Writing

Different types of summative writing have unique requirements which must be carefully checked for comprehension before starting the summative assessment. Adequate time must be allocated for clearly comprehending the requirements of the summative writing, drafting, reading, editing, and revising before submitting it for checking or grading.

Here are the six key main types of summative essays


This type of writing is a common choice in most social science curriculums. It is mainly the collection of the main points, key ideas, and domain-specific theocratic ideas taught inside of the unit plan.

Even though the opinions and persuasive arguments are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different from each other. An opinion simply requires you to state your thinking and back it up with facts and logic. Students in this type of writing are expected to show steady improvement throughout their degree programme, so their teachers could evaluate them for grading. Opinion writing is introduced to students in the 5th grade.


Argumentative type of writing needs the establishment and development of a claim made by the student in the introduction which is supported by the details containing resources and information in the main essay body . On the other hand, the opposing claim is used to present the exact opposite and contrasting point of view with supporting evidence.

Also read: How to write an argumentative essay

Compare & Contrast

This type of comparison writing attributes itself to the themes and backgrounds that have various aspects to them including individual personalities and specific geographic locations. The compare and contrast summative essays must be comprised of a set of attributes and qualities that the student can compare and contrast using text and research evidence. They do not ask the writer to prioritize one choice on the other, however, they do requires the writer to demonstrate comprehension of both and make a comparison.

The evaluative type of summative writing asks the writer to take a particular element, idea, or individual discussed during the unit and evaluate it using particular criteria. Students should take a stance on the theme and support it with text evidence and unit materials.

Theorising is a form of writing that gives answers to questions such as “What if?”. A theory is put forth on a particular theme that reflects reality or contrast to reality. The writer is expected to take an event, era or an individual.

Elements of a Good Summative Essay

If you want to write an effective summative essay, the following are the elements that you should consider:

Reliability: The writing delivers alike results throughout settings of classrooms, daily conditions and student groups.

Validity: The writing appropriately reflects what has been taught to students in the period of instruction.

Authenticity: The writing reflects a variety of skills related to the real world that are appropriate outside of the context of the classroom.

Variety: The essay reflects the usage of different words and views. Make sure to use different words and views to bring variety into the essay.

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Tips to Write an Effective Summative Essay

Here are some of the tips while writing a summative essay:

  • Look for authentic academic material that is relevant to your essay topic
  • Develop an outline before writing an essay.
  • Make sure the essay is organised in the form of good paragraphs.
  • Before starting the essay, make sure that you have some knowledge about the topic. Do some reading regarding the topic, before initiating the writing.
  • Lastly, proofread the essay to avoid grammatical errors

Writing a good introduction: For a good start begin your essay with an introduction . It should briefly provide the general ideas presented in the original text. The introduction should involve the author’s name, some contextual information about the author and work title. While in the paragraphs of the main body write the ideas that you have chosen while reading.

Use the rubric: Rubrics aid in setting a certain standard for the performance of a class on an assignment or test. They outline the key requirements and criteria you will be evaluated against.

Relevant to real-world: When writing a summative essay make sure that you are making it relevant to the real world.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to write a summative essay.

To write a summative essay, start with a clear thesis statement, organize your points logically, support with evidence, and conclude by summarizing key ideas. Edit and proofread for clarity and coherence. Follow the required format and citation style for a polished final draft.

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Writing a Summative Essay in 6 Simple Steps

Published by Ellie Cross at March 21st, 2022 , Revised On April 24, 2024

Writing a summative essay is a common way used by academic tutors to assess students’ learning and analytical abilities. Summative essays are used to evaluate students’ knowledge and understanding of an extensive concept or course content. Like other essay types, it comprises an introduction , main body and a concluding section.

A summative assessment synthesizes students’ learning and understanding of a particular academic source and almost always takes place at the end of term or a complete academic year. Such assessments determine the overall understanding or proficiency of the assessed topic .

However, this leaves many students unsure of what to do or where to begin. But don’t worry! We assume that students do not need to panic as long as we guide them on how to write an excellent summary essay.

Here are six simple steps that can help you compose a first-class summative essay paper.

1۔ Know Your Exact Summative Essay Topic

Even though this seems to be the simplest part of the process, it is often disregarded. Most people look at specific topics and select one because it appears to be the easiest or they have found sufficient material to work on it.

Understanding your professor’s opinion is essential here. What exactly does he expect from you? It is a significant step to produce good content for your summative essay. If you are confused about the topic, discuss it with your professor, friends, or colleagues.

Or our experts can provide a unique topic for your summative essay for free.

2. Search for the Relevant Material

Now that you have a clear picture of the topic of your summative essay, the next thing to do is to start reading the lectures notes or the academic sources available on the topic. Skim over the important points. Refresh your mind with your study material or course syllabus.

If you have ever attended a training course, seminar, or workshop on the topic, you will have a good amount of knowledge to write down as it will help you get a handle on some of the more complicated issues on the topic.

3. Make an Outline

While reading the relevant materials, split the literature into small paragraphs. This way, you can quickly get an overview of the literature. When reading the material, remember the essay topic you are writing so you can extract and note down useful information.

Jot down notes on any argument that you think might support the title of your essay. Then re-read each paragraph , and highlight all crucial points. Mark the areas you want to refer to in your summative essay and the points you do not wish to include.

Read: How to write an essay outline

4. Writing an Introduction

The introduction of your summative essay should briefly explain the main idea of the original paper, and provide the name of the author, the title of the paper, and the basic background information. Try to keep everything precise. As a rule, 250-300 words are sufficient for the introduction. Also, add the thesis statement as you will have to conclude your essay with reference to the thesis statement.

5. Writing the Main Body

Divide the essay into 2-4 themes in the main body, which you can argue and support in detail—elaborate these themes with one or more examples from the original paper. Include only necessary information and avoid irrelevant things.

6. Conclusion

A concluding paragraph is only required if your professor asks for it. Otherwise, it is not necessary.

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Important Points to Consider

  • One of the most important points to remember when writing a summative essay is to keep it related to the source.
  • Remember that your interpretations of the source may mislead your readers, so the text should be clear enough to give the reader an idea about the original work.
  • Proofread your essay and revise it when it is finished. Do not rush to submit the first draft as it is. There is always room for new additions. You may discover a useful quote to include. Read the essay thoroughly. Check for spelling mistakes. Pay special attention to the sentence structure.
  • If it’s feasible for you, rewrite a few sentences or whole paragraphs using an advanced article rewriter . It can revamp the text and give a whole new look to your essay.
  • Delete every unnecessary information. Keep your content short and meaningful.
  • Ask your friend or colleague to read to see if they can comprehend the main idea of the original source after reading your summative essay.
  • Now that you have been introduced to the basic tips and rules for writing a summative essay, its time to give yourself a try to select any interesting topic and write your essay!!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a summative essay.

A summative essay is a type of assessment that evaluates a student’s understanding, knowledge, and skills at the end of a course or academic period. It typically requires students to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge and critical thinking through a formal written essay, which is assessed for its overall quality and achievement of learning outcomes.

What are the 6 steps involve in writing a summative essay?

  • Know Your Exact Summative Essay Topic
  • Search for the Relevant Material
  • Make an Outline
  • Writing an Introduction
  • Writing the Main Body
  • Writing Conclusion

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Expository essays are all about describing or explaining an idea, a topic, or a method in a rational and reasonable manner without their personal bias”. They involve thorough research to establish an impartial and composed view towards any given topic or idea.

An essay conclusion is the most underrated part of an essay, but it allows the author to end the paper with a strong impression on the readers.

A good essay introduction paragraph sets the stage or the context for the position you are arguing. It provides an overview of what the essay is about.

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Writing a Summative Essay - A Guide with Tips and Examples


Summative essays are among the most common ones academic tutors and lecturers use to assess their students' analytical and learning abilities. This type of essay is normally used to examine the students’ comprehension and knowledge of certain concepts or course material. And just like other essays, summative essays have three main sections: the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Summative assessments synthesize students’ understanding and learning of specific academic content and are often administered at the end of an academic year or term. These assessments usually establish the overall comprehension and proficiency of the evaluated topic.

This, however, leaves a lot of students uncertain of where to begin and what to do. But do not fuss! You do not need to panic; this comprehensive guide will break down everything you need about summative essays.  That said, keep on scrolling to find out more.

What is a Summative Essay?

Summative essays require students to assess and synthesize the information learned and knowledge gained over a semester or a particular unit.

A summative essay is often written at the conclusion of a semester or unit, permitting learners to display the knowledge gained over that duration.

To write an excellent summative essay, you should be able to identify the most important points from your coursework and arrange them into a rational argument.

Note that summative essays often assume the form of argumentative essays, whereby you should take a position on the issue being discussed and then support these claims using relevant proof.

Nonetheless, summative essays can also assume other forms like explanatory essays, personal narratives, and compare-and-contrast essays. No matter what form they assume, summative essays offer great opportunities for students to ponder on their learning and display their comprehension of the course material.

Remember that the length and complexity of a summative essay depend on the student’s academic level. The students must have a great understanding of the style and aim of the assessment to come up with an effective summative essay.

Types of Summative Essays

There are different types of summative essays. Below are the main types of summative essays.

Explanatory/ Information

This is the most common type in social science programs. It primarily collects key ideas, main arguments, and domain-specific hypothetical ideas taught within the unit plan.

Opinion essays require students to state their thinking and then support it with logic and facts.

The evaluative kind of summative writing usually requires you to take a specific idea or element discussed during the unit and evaluate or assess it using a particular criterion. For such essays, you should take a stance on the chosen theme and back it with unit materials and textual evidence.


This kind of writing requires establishing and developing a claim made in the introduction of the essay, and reputable resources should support this claim in the essay’s main body. Conversely, the opposing claim illustrates the opposing point of view with relevant supporting proof.

Theorizing is a type of writing that answers questions like “what if? “Here, a theory is presented on a certain theme that depicts or contrasts with reality.

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast summative essays comprise qualities and attributes the student could compare and contrast using text and research evidence. They do not require the student to prioritize one choice over another, and it, however, does require you to display an understanding of both and then make a comparison.

Structure of a Summative Essay

A summative essay takes shape and structure of the typical academic essay with an introduction, body paragraphs, and concluding paragraphs.

The Introduction

The introduction is among the most critical parts of the paper, given that it offers a brief overview of its topic and main argument. It should immediately grab the reader's attention and give them a general feel of the remainder of the paper. And if you struggle to develop a good introduction for your essay, try using an anecdote or hook to engage the reader from the word go. The thesis statement , where necessary, is also included here.

The Main Body Paragraphs

For this section, it is vital to concentrate on key points and provide proof to support your thesis. Every paragraph should focus on an individual point. In addition, each paragraph should conclude in a sentence that links it back to the thesis.

By concentrating on different key arguments and providing relevant proof to support your thesis, you can effectively convey your position to the reader. Also, concluding all your body paragraphs with a sentence that links back to your thesis will remind your reader of your essay’s overall argument.

Related Reading: Parts of a body paragraph .

The Conclusion

The conclusion of a summative essay briefly summarizes the main points and clarifies how they support the overall argument. Additionally, the conclusion should offer the reader a sense of closure by answering any pending queries or concerns that might have surfaced in the essay.

A brief and precise summary of your essay’s main points ensures your reader completely comprehends your standpoint. In addition, tackling lingering concerns or questions gives your essay a sense of conclusiveness. All in all, the aim of your essay conclusion should be to provide your readers with a proper understanding of your argument.

Steps for Writing a Summative Essay

Here is a simple step-by-step guide on how to write an excellent summative essay.

Step one: Know your essay topic

Though this appears to be the most straightforward process, many people often disregard it. Many writers look at different topics and then pick one because it seems to be the simplest or has found enough content.

Having some level of understanding for your lecturer’s or tutor’s opinion is vital here. What do they expect and want from you? This is an important step in producing relevant content for your summative essay. If you are somewhat confused about the topic, you can discuss it with your professor or colleagues.

Step two: Conduct research for the relevant content

Now that you clearly understand your summative essay’s topic, you can go through your lecture notes or any available academic sources. Skim over the most important points. You can even refresh your brain with your course syllabus or study material.

And if you are lucky enough to have attended a workshop, seminar, or training course on the chosen topic, you’ll have ample knowledge to put down.

Step three: Prepare an Outline

While going through relevant material, you can divide the literature into small paragraphs, giving you a quick overview of the literature. Most importantly, when skimming through the material, have the essay topic at the back of your head to note any valuable and relevant information.

Take note of any critical points that you feel may support your essay. Make sure you re-read all paragraphs and highlight all vital points. Mark those areas that you will want to refer to in your essay and those points you do not wish to include.

Step four: Come Up With A Thesis Statement for Your Essay

A thesis statement is simply a brief statement that recaps your essay’s main argument. Your thesis statement should be brief and precise. It should also be specific enough that it is easily supportable by evidence from your research.

Step five: Write the Introduction

Your essay’s introduction should quickly introduce the reader to your essay’s main points. Also, remember to keep the intro short, not more than seven sentences. The thesis statement should be the final remark of your introduction.

The best sentence starters for summative essays include present tense verbs that adopt an active voice. For instance, “the aim of this essay is to” or “this paper will argue that.” You develop an engaging and livelier writing style by opening your sentences using an active voice and in the present tense.

Moreover, good sentence openers for summative essays can also incorporate strong statements or rhetorical questions. For example, you can start your summative essay with a question like “What’s the real value of friendship?” or a sentence like “It is the little things in life that matter.” Opening your essay with such attention-capturing sentences ensures that the reader is hooked from the start.

Step six: Write the Body Paragraphs

Each body paragraph should highlight one main point that should be stated clearly in the first sentence. Use the rest of the paragraph to support the main point with proof from your previous research. Ensure all sources are referenced using the appropriate format (APA, MLA, Harvard).

End each body paragraph with a statement summarizing the main point and supporting your arguments.

Step Seven: Write the Conclusion

Your conclusion should briefly summarize the main points of your essay and have a strong conclusion sentence that leaves the reader with something to think about after reading your paper. Once again, this should not be too long; five to six sentences are enough.

The Outline Format for a Summative Essay

Below is what a five-paragraph summative essay outline looks like, together with the critical elements that it features:

Paragraph one: Introduction

  • Hook sentence (attention grabber).
  • Concise background information to give the reader a small preview of what is being discussed in the rest of the essay.
  • Thesis statement.

Paragraph two: Body paragraph one

  • Topic sentence: The first main idea of your essay clarifies the topic.
  • Support proof.
  • Analysis of the proof.
  • Final remarks and then moving to the next point.

Paragraph three: Body paragraph two

  • Topic sentence: It is the essay’s second main idea.
  • Supporting proof.

Paragraph four: Body paragraph three

  • Topic sentence: It is the essay’s third main point.
  • Final remarks.

Paragraph five: Conclusion

  • Restate your thesis statement.
  • A summary of the entire essay.
  • Address unanswered questions or lingering concerns.
  • Call to action.

Example Outline for a Summative Essay

Below is an example of an explanatory summative essay outline that discusses how modern technological improvements have transformed human behavior and facilitated progress.

  • Improvements in technology have transformed the universe into a global village.
  • Background information on the low productivity levels before the improvements in technology.
  • Thesis statement: Technological advancement enhanced human learning, thus paving the way for reformation.

Paragraph two: Situation before technological improvements

  • Describe the low productivity levels before advancements in technology.
  • Discuss how technology has impacted infrastructure, economies, education, and communication.
  • Illustrate how this has promoted global change.

Paragraph three: Development and spread of technology

  • Discuss the foundation of algebra and how this has helped to transform the technological world today.
  • Demonstrate the consequences of this new technology on transport and production.
  • Discuss the quick spread of technological advancements.
  • Link this information to reformation.

Paragraph four: Impact of technology on reformation

  • Discuss how ease of access to information globally has helped individuals.
  • Discuss how technology has aided humans during the reformation period.
  • Discuss the significant impacts these technological advancements have had on the planet.
  • Restate the thesis statement: Technological advancement enhanced human learning, thus paving the way for reformation.
  • Provide a summary of the main points in the paper.
  • Highlight the value of technological improvements to the world today.

Sample Summative Essay

A compare and contrast summative essay comparing the economic system of Canada and that of the USA.

Both Canada and the USA are capitalist countries with a capitalist economic system. While these two North American countries use the same economic system, there are several differences in their approach to capitalism. Canada’s capitalist economic system is highly regulated compared to the American one. There is more state intervention in Canada to ensure the citizenry has access to crucial services like education and healthcare. In contrast, the USA’s capitalist economic system is more laissez-faire, and the government plays a relatively smaller role in the market.

Both capitalist economic systems have their advantages and disadvantages. Canada's highly regulated economic system ensures that most citizens get high-quality and affordable education and healthcare services from the public. However, the system also tends to lead to greater government bureaucracy. On the other hand, the laissez-faire approach employed by the USA ensures more innovation and private sector investments. Nevertheless, it also leads to increased inequality as it puts more money in the pockets of the rich.

While both economic systems have advantages and disadvantages, Canada's highly-regulated approach to capitalism is better than the American system. This is because it ensures the public enjoys high-quality and affordable essential services.

How to start a summative essay?

Summative essays are short. While they are short, an introduction is still necessary. And the introduction better contains everything you would expect in a typical introduction for it to be considered complete. A typical essay introduction starts with an attention-grabbing statement, followed by background information, and then a thesis statement. Ensure your summative essay introduction has all these things if you want it to be considered complete.

How to end a Summative Essay?

A summative essay ends with a conclusion. The perfect way to write a conclusion for a summative essay is to start with a restatement of the thesis and then provide a summary of the main points. If the essay is too short (less than 250 words), nobody will expect you to dwell on restating the thesis or summarizing the main points. A short concluding sentence will suffice. Nevertheless, you must restate the thesis and the main points for a proper conclusion. You also need to finish a powerful concluding statement that captures what you hope the impact of your research will be.

Tips for writing the best Summative Essay

Follow the tips below to become an expert summative essay writer.

  • Brainstorm after reading instructions. After reading the instructions provided by your instructor for your summative essay, you should brainstorm; you should think about what the instructor wants for a couple of minutes. Doing this will help you to settle on a good topic. It will also help you to decide early what you want to do or to prove in your paper. Of course, this will make it easier for you to conduct research.
  • Always use an outline. Before you start writing any essay, you should always create an outline. An outline is very important because it gives an essay structure and flow. Writing your summative essay without an outline may miss good structure and flow, resulting in a low or average grade.
  • Credible sources only. It is absolutely crucial to use only credible sources in your research. Because if you don’t, you can easily be misled in your essay. Furthermore, you can get an average or low grade. Instructors do not like learners who use non-credible sources such as blogs, random websites, and social media, as they think it is lazy and non-professional. So ensure you strictly use credible sources if you want a high grade on your essay.
  • Do not forget to proofread your work. You must proofread your work when you are done. Nobody writes a perfect essay in their first draft. Therefore, it is vital to proofread your work after you finish it. Proofread it to eliminate grammar errors, typos, sentence errors, and so on. Ensuring it is flawless will increase your chances of getting a high grade in your final exams.
  • Cite your sources. An essay without cited sources is not a complete essay. You will not get top marks in an essay if you don’t provide in-text citations and reference page references. You are a learner, so when you are asked to write an essay, you are essentially being tested on your ability to find the correct information from experts and analyze it. Do not make the mistake of presenting a paper without references, and you will be penalized.

And with all that, what next?

Summative essays are fun to write, and you have everything you need to know to write a brilliant summative essay. The ball is in your court. If you have an assignment, it is now time to put what you have learned into practice.

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How to Write a Summative Essay

Published by Boni on November 3, 2022 November 3, 2022

how to write a summative essay

Have you ever been asked to write an essay about a book, movie, article, speech, or other reading material? Perhaps your teacher gave you a prompt and asked you to respond to it in an essay. If so, that was most likely a summative essay. A summative report is a short piece of writing about someone else’s work. It explains the main ideas of the reading material and evaluates them. Such essays are often assigned to test your ability to understand what you read and articulate your thoughts. This post will explore valuable tips for writing a successful summative essay.

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What is a Summative Essay?

A summative essay is an academic paper that requires students to evaluate and synthesize information learned over a unit or semester. It summarizes, describes and evaluates the main ideas of the reading material. A summative essay can be written about almost any topic. It can be based on a book, a speech, an article, or other reading material. To report a good summary essay, you must read the material carefully, take notes, and think about what the author is trying to say.

Then, you should organize your notes and use them to write a summary. A summative essay is not the same as a book review. While both summarize reading material, book reviews focus on quality. They give an evaluation of the book based on a set of criteria.

Types of Summative Writing

There are different types of summative writing a student can handle. Understand that every style is unique and has other requirements. That means you must understand the summative writing asked before handling it. Allocate adequate time to the essays since you have to read, draft, edit and revise the paper before submitting.

Below are the main types of summative writing:

Persuasive and opinions arguments may be used interchangeably. However, you should understand that they are pretty different. In an opinion essay, you have to state your ideology and then back up your side of the story with logic and facts. In this type of summative writing, students should show some improvement throughout their studies for evaluation from the teachers. This type of summative writing is given to students in 5th grade who must write a persuasive speech based on their opinion.

2. Explanatory

This summative essay is quite common in social science curriculums. Here the students focus on the unit plan’s key ideas, main points and domain-specific ideas such as a reaction paper .

3. Argumentative

The argumentative summative essay requires developing and establishing a claim the student makes during the introduction. The claim has to be supported by details such as information and resources in the essay’s body. There should also be an opposing claim where the student should state the contrasting point of view and add supporting evidence.

4. Evaluative

In this summative essay, the writer is supposed to take a given idea, element or individual in the curriculum and evaluate them in a specific criterion. Here students have to have their theme and stand by it using unit materials and text evidence. A good example is a cause and effects essay .

5. Compare & contrast

This essay has diverse attributes to the backgrounds and themes, such as specific geographic locations or individual personalities. These essays comprise a set of qualities and characteristics that students should compare and contrast using research evidence.

These summative essays do not require the student to pick a side. However, they are asked to cover both sides in comprehension and compare them thoroughly.

6. Theorizing

These essays will answer critical “what if” questions. The student is given a theory that contrasts or reflects the society today. The writer should take an individual, era or event to work on.

Elements of a Good Summative Essay

An effective summative essay ought to have the following crucial elements:

  • Validity – the report should reflect what the students have learned during the term or semester.
  • Reliability – the writing should deliver similar results throughout daily conditions, settings of classrooms and student groups.
  • Authenticity – the summative essay should reflect the skills in the real world outside the classroom context.
  • Variety – this essay should reflect the usage of different views and words to make the diverse.

Here is a summary essay with a response on how to tame a Wild Tongue that you might be interested in reading.

Format of Summative Essays

The summative essay formats are almost similar to any essay you have written. These essays will typically follow the standard format for writing an essay. An effective summative report must include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

  • Introduction

The introduction should be clear, interesting, and engaging. It should also be written so that a reader who has never read the material can understand what it is about. A good introduction gives the reader a preview of what you will discuss in the rest of the essay. It hooks the reader and makes them want to read more.

The body is where you discuss the reading material and support your argument with evidence. The body should be well-organized. You can use various strategies to organize your essay, including a chronological order, a compare-and-contrast order, or a topical order.

The conclusion is the final part of the summative essay. The conclusion should restate your main point, summarize the paper, and bring the reader back to the introduction.

A standard essay is usually between five and ten double-spaced pages long. The introduction should be between one and three paragraphs long. The body of the paper should be between two and five paragraphs long. The conclusion should be one paragraph long.

Tips on How to Write a Good Summative Essay

Before writing a summative essay, you should read the reading material carefully. Remember to highlight or take notes while reading so you don’t forget important points. Here are some of the tips to keep in mind when writing this essay:

  • Create an outline before you begin writing the essay
  • Get authentic academic material and only use that for the essay
  • Organize your paper in paragraphs
  • Gather more information and knowledge on the topic of discussion
  • Proofread the article before submitting it to ensure everything is okay, and there are no grammatical errors
  • Curate a superb introduction – your introduction should be catchy and precise. It should invite your readers to keep reading.
  • Relevant essay – as you create your summative report, ensure it is relevant and meaningful to the real world. A typical person should resonate with your paper.

A summative essay explains the main ideas of the reading material and evaluates them. To write an excellent summarizing essay, you must read the reading material carefully and take notes. You should also clearly understand the reading material and write your essay based on the material, not your opinion.

Need Help Writing Your Summative Essay?

Writing an summative essay is difficult, especially if you don’t have much experience writing such essays. Even if you read the material carefully and take notes while reading, summarizing it right in your own words may not be straightforward. Supporting your thesis statement with evidence from the reading material can be even more challenging. If you are having trouble writing a summative essay, you could seek professional speech writing help .

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How to Write a Summary | Guide & Examples

Published on 25 September 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 12 May 2023.

Summarising , or writing a summary, means giving a concise overview of a text’s main points in your own words. A summary is always much shorter than the original text.

There are five key steps that can help you to write a summary:

  • Read the text
  • Break it down into sections
  • Identify the key points in each section
  • Write the summary
  • Check the summary against the article

Writing a summary does not involve critiquing or analysing the source. You should simply provide an accurate account of the most important information and ideas (without copying any text from the original).

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Table of contents

When to write a summary, step 1: read the text, step 2: break the text down into sections, step 3: identify the key points in each section, step 4: write the summary, step 5: check the summary against the article, frequently asked questions.

There are many situations in which you might have to summarise an article or other source:

  • As a stand-alone assignment to show you’ve understood the material
  • To keep notes that will help you remember what you’ve read
  • To give an overview of other researchers’ work in a literature review

When you’re writing an academic text like an essay , research paper , or dissertation , you’ll integrate sources in a variety of ways. You might use a brief quote to support your point, or paraphrase a few sentences or paragraphs.

But it’s often appropriate to summarize a whole article or chapter if it is especially relevant to your own research, or to provide an overview of a source before you analyse or critique it.

In any case, the goal of summarising is to give your reader a clear understanding of the original source. Follow the five steps outlined below to write a good summary.

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You should read the article more than once to make sure you’ve thoroughly understood it. It’s often effective to read in three stages:

  • Scan the article quickly to get a sense of its topic and overall shape.
  • Read the article carefully, highlighting important points and taking notes as you read.
  • Skim the article again to confirm you’ve understood the key points, and reread any particularly important or difficult passages.

There are some tricks you can use to identify the key points as you read:

  • Start by reading the abstract . This already contains the author’s own summary of their work, and it tells you what to expect from the article.
  • Pay attention to headings and subheadings . These should give you a good sense of what each part is about.
  • Read the introduction and the conclusion together and compare them: What did the author set out to do, and what was the outcome?

To make the text more manageable and understand its sub-points, break it down into smaller sections.

If the text is a scientific paper that follows a standard empirical structure, it is probably already organised into clearly marked sections, usually including an introduction, methods, results, and discussion.

Other types of articles may not be explicitly divided into sections. But most articles and essays will be structured around a series of sub-points or themes.

Now it’s time go through each section and pick out its most important points. What does your reader need to know to understand the overall argument or conclusion of the article?

Keep in mind that a summary does not involve paraphrasing every single paragraph of the article. Your goal is to extract the essential points, leaving out anything that can be considered background information or supplementary detail.

In a scientific article, there are some easy questions you can ask to identify the key points in each part.

If the article takes a different form, you might have to think more carefully about what points are most important for the reader to understand its argument.

In that case, pay particular attention to the thesis statement —the central claim that the author wants us to accept, which usually appears in the introduction—and the topic sentences that signal the main idea of each paragraph.

Now that you know the key points that the article aims to communicate, you need to put them in your own words.

To avoid plagiarism and show you’ve understood the article, it’s essential to properly paraphrase the author’s ideas. Do not copy and paste parts of the article, not even just a sentence or two.

The best way to do this is to put the article aside and write out your own understanding of the author’s key points.

Examples of article summaries

Let’s take a look at an example. Below, we summarise this article , which scientifically investigates the old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’.

An article summary like the above would be appropriate for a stand-alone summary assignment. However, you’ll often want to give an even more concise summary of an article.

For example, in a literature review or research paper, you may want to briefly summarize this study as part of a wider discussion of various sources. In this case, we can boil our summary down even further to include only the most relevant information.

Citing the source you’re summarizing

When including a summary as part of a larger text, it’s essential to properly cite the source you’re summarizing. The exact format depends on your citation style , but it usually includes an in-text citation and a full reference at the end of your paper.

You can easily create your citations and references in APA or MLA using our free citation generators.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

Finally, read through the article once more to ensure that:

  • You’ve accurately represented the author’s work
  • You haven’t missed any essential information
  • The phrasing is not too similar to any sentences in the original.

If you’re summarising many articles as part of your own work, it may be a good idea to use a plagiarism checker to double-check that your text is completely original and properly cited. Just be sure to use one that’s safe and reliable.

A summary is a short overview of the main points of an article or other source, written entirely in your own words.

Save yourself some time with the free summariser.

A summary is always much shorter than the original text. The length of a summary can range from just a few sentences to several paragraphs; it depends on the length of the article you’re summarising, and on the purpose of the summary.

With the summariser tool you can easily adjust the length of your summary.

You might have to write a summary of a source:

  • As a stand-alone assignment to prove you understand the material
  • For your own use, to keep notes on your reading
  • To provide an overview of other researchers’ work in a literature review
  • In a paper , to summarise or introduce a relevant study

To avoid plagiarism when summarising an article or other source, follow these two rules:

  • Write the summary entirely in your own words by   paraphrasing the author’s ideas.
  • Reference the source with an in-text citation and a full reference so your reader can easily find the original text.

An abstract concisely explains all the key points of an academic text such as a thesis , dissertation or journal article. It should summarise the whole text, not just introduce it.

An abstract is a type of summary , but summaries are also written elsewhere in academic writing . For example, you might summarise a source in a paper , in a literature review , or as a standalone assignment.

Cite this Scribbr article

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McCombes, S. (2023, May 12). How to Write a Summary | Guide & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 29 April 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/working-sources/how-to-write-a-summary/

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How to summarize an essay.

Nayeli Ellen

College and high school students (as well as maybe some middle schoolers) will often face the task of summarizing a book, article, video, or anything they’ve seen/read. Sometimes, you will have to create summaries for yourself, so that you understand the material better. Other times though, you will have to write summary essays, the main purpose of which is to give others an overview of the original source. In both cases, summaries look somewhat the same: they are concise, contain only the most crucial points, and pass on the key idea or essence of the initial material, be it a movie or a book. To serve that purpose, summaries need to be well-written and we will show you exactly how to summarize an essay in the most effective format.

The Key Parts of a Summary: Structure

As a student, you know that most writing tasks have guidelines. You also most probably know that, if you are asked to write a certain type of writing, it has a specific structure and format. See, that’s why you can’t write summaries at random too. 

Thus, before starting the writing process, let’s first figure out what structure this type of writing has. This will allow you to create a summary essay outline that will make it easy for you to include all the essential information and will guide you throughout the writing process as well. 

Here’s what you absolutely have to include in your essay summary:

  • Introduction + thesis, which will provide readers with all the necessary details about the work (title, author, etc) and its key idea
  • Body paragraphs that support the main point of the essay and therefore include all the necessary details that show how the author justifies their claims
  • Conclusion paragraph, which is usually one sentence that may rephrase the main idea and which is called to tie everything together.

You can use our checklist below to help you track down whether you included all the necessary components:

How to Summarize an Essay

Writing a Summary Essay: Detailed Guide

Before jumping straight to writing, let’s see what we now know about these special summaries:

  • What is a summary essay? – Check✅ It’s a concise overview of the essay you’ve read that communicates the key ideas of the material.
  • What parts does a summary essay have? – Another check✅ Introduction, with details about the essay + thesis statement; body, with the summary of the main points; conclusion, which wraps up the key idea of the essay.
  • How to write a Summary? – ⚠️This one we will break down further in this paragraph.

One would think that the guide to writing a summary couldn’t be that complex: just read the text, sit down, and write. However, if you scroll through the writing guide below, you will see that there are nuances.

Read & Study

First things first, get to know what the essay is about. Read through it carefully. If it helps you, take notes as you read, marking the most important arguments and ideas that need mentioning in your essay. A good thing is you can get a feeling for the author’s style, tone, and mood, and try to identify the main claims they made.

Divide & Outline

After you are done reading, break down the essay into several sections. Breaking the text into several parts will make the material easier to grasp. With their help, you can also create a rough outline of what your summary will look like.

Identify Key Ideas

Read each part you divided the essay into once more. This time, highlight some of the key points. Mark areas you want to refer to in your summary, as well as those that shouldn’t be included in your essay. During this stage, you should also be able to identify the general message and the essence of the essay.

Create an Introduction

You now have all the necessary details to be able to begin summarizing. Start with an introduction with an opening line that includes the name of the author and the title of their essay. Follow that information with a rather broad overview of the content of the work you will be summarizing. Sometimes, if it is important to understand the essay, you may present here the author’s background as well. And don’t forget the thesis statement that transmits the purpose/point of the work.

Move on to the Body

In the main body paragraphs, state the ideas you’ve chosen while reading the text. Expand on them by including one or more examples from the original text. Don’t forget to include citations if you do that. Our citation generator can give a hand with that.

Quick Citations for Your Convenience

Also, in this part, you can mention any supportive points given in the original text. These could be examples, or stories (but brief or rephrased) that the author originally mentioned.

Finish with a Conclusion & References

Phew, we are at the finish line now. All that is left is to write a concluding paragraph, which is usually around 2-3 sentences tops. Here you need to basically rewrite the thesis statement, once again emphasizing the main purpose or claim of the original source. After that, don’t forget to include a properly formatted reference of the original source to acknowledge the writer. It is not always a requirement but it is especially needed if you include quotes in the text of your summary.

Review & Proofread

Okay, the hardest part is left behind. You can now read through what you’ve written. Make sure everything sounds logical and clear. Pay attention to grammatical and punctuation mistakes. Try reading it aloud or giving it to somebody else to read it for you. This will help you pinpoint places that need improvement and maybe throughout 1 or 2 unnecessary details.

Dos and Don’ts of Summary Essay Writing

Look at you, knowing all this about writing an essay summary. Good for you! And what’s more, you can basically complete any type of summary now, just switching up its content. However, we are not done with teaching you yet. We got the basics settled, so now it’s time to get to the advanced stuff. These are the dos and don’ts that will serve as boosters for your writing. Keeping these tips in mind will help you craft your summaries more quickly and will largely reduce the proofreading time.

Essay Summary Example for Inspiration

Here’s a simple example of a summary of an essay that can serve as a sample and inspiration for your work:

How to Summarize an Essay

How do you write a summary of an essay?

If you want to create a good summary, start by carefully reading. You need to understand its main ideas and arguments. Then, in your own words, write a brief overview that captures the essay’s central theme and key points. Don’t forget to include the author’s thesis statement and the evidence they use to support their argument. Keep your summary short and focused, avoiding any personal opinions or unnecessary details. 

How do I summarize my essay?

In case it’s your own essay you want to summarize, you should follow the same steps: identify your main argument, outline the supporting points, and then communicate this information in a short overview that gives a clear idea of your essay’s content.

What are the 5 parts of a summary?

Even though we mentioned only 3 major parts of the summary in our article, most summaries can be broken down into 5 aspects: introduction, thesis, body, conclusion, and references. Each of these is important for creating an all-inclusive summary.

What are the rules for summary essay?

Okay, let’s go over the basic summary rules once again. The summary should be short (around ¼ of the original) and concise (include only the most essential information without repetition). Additionally, this writing type should follow a logical structure, meaning you need to uncover the important facts in the same order as they are presented in the essay. Lastly, essay summaries should be independent. The readers chose to look through the summary because they didn’t want to read the whole text. Hence, they need to be able to learn everything important mentioned in the original.

What words should you start a summary essay with?

Usually, a summary of an essay starts with an introductory sentence that includes the name of the author, the title of the work, and the general idea of the text as you perceive it. Remember, you should describe everything in your own words, both to avoid plagiarism and to show your understanding of the material.

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How to Write a Summative Essay

Most students struggle to write a good essay. It’s even more difficult for them to write an excellent summative essay and get that stellar grade. A summative essay is the among most important essays you’ll write in college. And if you want an “A,” you need to make sure that you follow the correct format and have a good thesis statement.

So how can you write a good summative essay? Before knowing how to ace it, you first need to understand the essay’s features, characteristics, and format. This then clears the clouds for you to get it right.

Continue reading this blog to understand how to become one of the best summative essay writers.

What is a Summative Essay?

A summative essay is a short written piece, particularly an article that describes, summarizes, or evaluates a more extended passage. Because of its brevity, a short essay needs an exciting topic to capture the reader’s attention. It typically begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion summarizing the main points covered.

On the other hand, summative assessment is the process your academic institution uses to determine your performance, understanding, and knowledge vis a vis the course.

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Learning institutions give these essays to test a student’s understanding of a topic, concept, or aptitude.

There are different types of summative writings. Each has a unique requirement, and you must understand these to nail them. The types are

These types derive their name from the word theory. A theory is given, which may be a reality or in contrast to reality, and you have to answer the question.

Evaluative essays require you to take a specific character, idea, or issue from the course work and evaluate it. You have to support your evaluation with texts and other evidence from the coursework materials.

Compare and Contrast

As the name suggests, these writings require you to contrast two characters, ideas, or elements from the course.


Argumentative writing pieces establish a claim in the introduction, and you build upon it with evidence. Afterward, you take a contrasting idea and explain it still with support from the coursework.


Opinionated essays are essays you write to show your clear standing and thoughts on an issue or topic. Sometimes, people call them persuasive essays, although slight differences exist between them. In the former, you state your stand, while in the latter, you state your perspective and ask people to support or follow it.


This type of writing is the most common in your curriculum. The paper requires you to summarize a concept or topic you have covered in your own words.

Format of Summative Essays

Summative essays are structured into three parts. However, depending on the essay type, this structure may slightly change. Nevertheless, you can follow this basic structure

1.      Introduction

The introduction gives background information about your topic.

2.      Body

The body contains several paragraphs covering a different point of your essay topic.

3.      Conclusion

The conclusion summarizes the points you made in the body.

This format is consistent with APA guidelines for research papers and academic writing in general, so it’s easy to apply to summative essays if you’re already familiar with that.

Additionally, summative essays have an abstract if you follow the APA guidelines. An abstract provides a concise overview of the main points of a paper or report, including its purpose, results (if applicable), and conclusions.

It should be no more than 250 words and should be able to stand alone from the rest of your paper or report due to its length limitations. Use short sentences and simple vocabulary when drafting your abstract since people reading it will likely not have read through your whole paper yet.

Tips for Writing a Good Summative Essay

To stand out in your summative essay writing, you should consider the following elements

1.      Develop an Outline

Developing an outline will help you write a good summative essay quickly and effectively. Your outline should not deviate from the format discussed above. But if your instructor gives a specific form, you should follow it.

2.      Have a strong introduction

As you begin writing your summative essay, make sure it starts with a strong introduction. It’s essential to have a short introduction that clearly introduces the paper’s topic. In addition, this is where you’ll want to put your thesis statement.

You might also want to provide some background information and use exciting language that will help draw in your reader. Finally, one of the primary purposes of this section is to provide an overview of the rest of the essay.

3.      Include a thesis statement and provide a brief outline of the essay’s structure

Your thesis statement should respond to the essay question and provide a brief outline of how you will structure your essay. Make sure that your thesis statement is consistent with your essay structure.

Your body paragraphs should each address one point from the thesis statement and develop it with examples, evidence, and/or analysis. Finally, the conclusion should restate the answer you have arrived at through your analysis of the evidence presented in the essay’s body.

4.      Ensure each paragraph has a main idea or topic sentence that identifies the central message

This helps you present your ideas and arguments concisely. Some considerations to follow here include.

  • Focus on one idea per paragraph to make it easier for you to support your point of view with evidence and examples, and avoid offering too much detail at once.
  • Connect the topic sentence to your thesis statement. The reader should always be able to see clearly how each paragraph in the body of the essay contributes to the development and support of the thesis statement.
  • Avoid long paragraphs. Paragraphs over five sentences tend to contain extraneous information and digressions rather than stick closely to the main point

5.      Proofread your work

After finishing your essay, you should go through it once more to remove any grammatical errors. A vital tip in proofreading is to leave your work for some hours before coming back to proofread it. If your deadline is far, you can even leave it for days.

Summative essays may seem challenging to write if you do not know what they entail and their different types. However, this post has taken you through them, and now you know how to write one. Further, it would help if you went through your coursework to help you write about the given topic.

Additionally, your summative essay should follow your school’s rubric because each institution may prefer specific guidelines that may differ from the general rules.

Summative Assessment: Essay Preparation

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As the school year progresses, students find themselves facing the intimidating challenge of summative assessments. These evaluations, especially in the form of essays, demand more from your students than a good memory — they require critical thinking, effective communication, and planning. To help students navigate this crucial phase successfully, we've put together a guide to help you prepare them for summative assessments that involve essay writing.

Understanding Summative Assessment

A summative assessment is a culmination of a student's learning over a specific period, usually marking the end of a unit or course. We have a specific blog post on Summative assessment which you can find here . Essays are a common format for summative assessments, assessing students' understanding of concepts, analytical skills, and ability to articulate their thoughts.

Key steps to help guide your students through Summative Assessment Preparation

  • Review the topic with them: Before diving into essay preparation, carefully review the assessment guidelines with your students. It is important to help them understand what the essay should be about, how you will be marking their essay and any specific expectations regarding structure, formatting, and references.
  • Help them understand the Essay question: Encourage your students to break down the essay question into the key concepts. Identify the main question, any sub-questions, and the theme of the essay. This will guide their research and stay focused on the central theme.
  • Encourage them to do lots of research: Gather relevant information from reliable sources to support your arguments. Use a combination of textbooks, academic journals, and reputable online resources. Take notes on key points, quotes, and references that you can incorporate into your essay.
  • Create an Outline: Show your students how to plan their essays, create an outline and organise their thoughts. Remember a well-organised essay typically includes an introduction, the main body, and a conclusion. Encourage them to outline the main points they want to cover as well as the supporting evidence in their plan.
  • Drafts and proofreading: One of the great things about setting an essay as an end-of-unit assessment is that your students have time to research and refine their answers. Encourage them to leave time at the end of the assessment to rewrite sections if needed and remind them that proofreading is important to check for spelling or grammatical errors.

Key takeaways to prepare your students for summative assessment: essay success!

(You can print these key points out or write them up for your students to copy)

  • Break down the essay question and identify the main theme.
  • Conduct comprehensive research using reliable sources.
  • Create a well-organised outline to guide your essay.
  • Build coherent body paragraphs each with a strong topic.
  • Cite sources properly using the specified citation style.
  • Craft a thoughtful conclusion that summarises key points.
  • Allocate time for thorough revision and proofreading.

By following these steps, students can approach summative assessments with confidence, knowing they have a solid plan for essay success. Remember, preparation is the key to performing well under the pressure of summative assessments. Good luck!

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Beyond the essay, iii.

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Summative Assignments: Authentic Alternatives to the Essay

Metaphor Maps ||  Student Anthologies ||  Poster Presentations

The essay is often the go-to assignment in humanities courses, and rightfully so. Especially in the text-based disciplines, the craft of the essay is highly valued as part of practicing the work of the field. More broadly, developing effective writing skills is a universal learning objective in higher education and, to varying degrees, is often dependent on these humanities classes. There are, however, alternative assignments in which students can rigorously but creatively perform their understandings in summative projects to be rigorously assessed, while still practicing–and even calling attention to–the habits of mind of the discipline.

Metaphor Maps

Students synthesize and unify multiple themes or concepts through metaphors, and then explicate their own thinking

summative writing essay

This assignment encourages students to practice and perform a variety of ways of thinking:

  • think creatively about a text, concept, or unit (or several) by thinking metaphorically,
  • synthesize varied pieces of a complex concept or text, and
  • articulate their thinking in new and self-authored ways.

It involves two parts:  first, students draw an image of a single metaphor they use to make sense of a concept, text, or unit (or several), and then–more importantly–they explicate their drawing. Sample instructions are in the box to the right.

Ultimately, metaphor maps are less about the drawing and more about how students synthesize and unify complex, multidimensional thinking around a single metaphor–and how clearly and effectively they explain these ideas. This strategy stretches them beyond the typical modes of learning and challenges them to organize their thoughts in a new way.

summative writing essay

Some suggested criteria for assessing metaphor maps include the following:

  • Comprehensiveness
  • Unity & Synthesis

Each is further developed in the box to the right.

  • In “ Using ‘Frameworks’ To Enhance Teaching and Learning ” (2012), Patrice W. Hallock describes an assignment in which her students draw their thinking about how they make sense of course content. One student used the metaphor of a camera (right). Although her assignment doesn’t include an essay explication, this student-generated and -drawn metaphor for a concept is the beginning of a metaphor map.
  • In a philosophy class, a sample metaphor for critical thinking is a ship at sea surrounded by ethical mountains (below, right; Pierce).

summative writing essay

  • In a multicultural literature class, a student drew a baseball field in the final inning. The teams represented two of the cultures he’d read about in the class, the baseball field represented the All-American setting where they were at conflict, and the final inning suggested a time of crisis.
  • These “ Minimalist Fairy Tales ” drawings offer great examples of a slight alternative to metaphor maps. Students can be asked to draw a simple image from the text that captures the essential meaning of the whole text. Synecdoche Maps!

Student Anthologies

Students perform the work of editors or curators

A significant genre in the humanities is the anthology, collections of poems, stories, essays, artwork, etc, selected, researched, and annotated by an editor.  Students can take on this role of editor, acting as curator and commentator as they establish a sense of authority and ownership over the material (Chick, 2002). They make intentional decisions about which pieces to include, what contexts to provide in their editorial notes, and even what paper, binding, font, and illustrations to use. If the pieces are short enough, as in a poetry anthology, students can be required to write or type the pieces themselves “to engage with every letter, every punctuation mark, every capital or lower-case letter, and every line break, and to consider the meanings of these choices by the poet” (p. 420). They include a title page, table of contents, prologue, and epilogue framing their anthology.

Giving students guidance for their editorial responses to each selection is helpful.  Some possibilities include the following:

  • Argue for its significance
  • Interpret its meaning
  • Describe its historical and cultural context
  • Write a biographical headnote using details most relevant to the selection
  • Explain how it illustrates an important disciplinary theory or concept

Ultimately, students are “defining their own aesthetics” and becoming “aware of the ramifications of making aesthetic choices” by creating their anthologies (p. 422). This analysis can then be connected to the formation of the canon, revealing the subjective nature of “what they may have thought were universal or unquestioned notions” of quality and significance in the field. Resource

  • “ Anthologizing Transformation: Breaking Down Students’ ‘Private Theories’ about Poetry ” (2002) explains the rationale and process for student anthologies in greater detail.

Poster Presentations

Students visually showcase their learning and present it to wider audiences

Le e Shulman, President Emeritus of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has written of the importance of engaging with our teaching as we do our research–as “‘ community property ”: “We close the classroom doors and experience pedagogical solitude, whereas in our life as scholars, we are members of active communities: communities of conversation, communities of evaluation, communities in which we gather with others in our invisible colleges to exchange our findings, our methods, and our excuses” (2004, p. 140). What if we asked our students to do the same with their learning–as fellow citizens of the university, emerging scholars and researchers and producers of their own knowledge?  In this model of making learning community property, the audience for student learning extends beyond the instructor and often even classmates–reaching out to a larger community that remains authentic to disciplinary and learning goals.

The genre of the academic poster is a staple in the natural and social sciences, displayed at conferences and other meetings to share research findings with peers, and students in these fields begin practicing these ways of going public fairly early.  As Hess, Tosney, and Liegel demonstrate in “ Creating Effective Poster Presentations ” (2013), these visual representations of knowledge “operate on multiple levels”: “source of information, conversation starter, advertisement of your work, and summary of your work.” Poster sessions can be lively sites of conversations about new and interesting work in the field, but few (if any) disciplines in the humanities use this genre. In this way, assigning posters may feel inauthentic; however, the genre’s attention to sharing content in a concise, visual, and public format can be adapted to more closely reflect the meaning-making in the humanities. In fact, given many humanities disciplines’ appreciation of form reflecting content, the poster can make visible specific rhetorical moves, encouraging students to think not only about their ideas but also how they form their ideas.

It’s important to note that the poster is a conversation starter : it doesn’t have to present the project in its entirety. Instead, it can highlight part of the project, which the presenter uses to begin an oral explanation of the rest of the project.

  • “ Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: The Assertion-Evidence Structure ” similarly re-envisions what slides can do for engineers and scientists. (The rhetorical move of making an assertion and supporting it with evidence is of course used in the humanities as well.) The focus of that work is PowerPoint slides for presentations, but the framework can be applied to a single slide for a poster by stating the assertion and then illustrating it with visual images (or text boxes).
  • The infographic on Maria Popova’s “ The Lives of 10 Famous Painters, Visualized as Minimalist Infographic Biographies ” illustrates additional possibilities, although they’re made with more sophisticated software than PowerPoint. Using them as examples, though, will inspire some students to go further than the simpler models described above.
  • There are plenty of websites with step-by-step instructions on how to make academic posters using the traditional scientific poster model. (Simply Google “academic posters.”) For our purposes, though, most of their instructions don’t apply–except for their useful explanations for using PowerPoint .
  • Chick, Nancy L. (2002). Anthologizing transformation: breaking down students’ ‘private theories’ about poetry . Teaching English in the Two-Year College , 29 .4. 418-423.
  • Hallock, Patrice W. (Sept 17, 2012). Using ‘frameworks’ to enhance teaching and learning. Faculty Focus. Magna Publications.
  • Hess, George, Tosney, Kathryn, and Liegel, Leon. (2013). Creating effective poster presentations . North Carolina State University.
  • Pierce, K. (2013).  Concept maps in philosophy courses. In Socrates’ Wake: A Blog about Teaching Philosophy.
  • Shulman, Lee S. (2004). Teaching as community property: Putting an end to pedagogical solitude . Teaching as Community Property: Essays on Higher Education . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 140-144.

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Formative and summative assessments.

Assessment allows both instructor and student to monitor progress towards achieving learning objectives, and can be approached in a variety of ways. Formative assessment refers to tools that identify misconceptions, struggles, and learning gaps along the way and assess how to close those gaps. It includes effective tools for helping to shape learning, and can even bolster students’ abilities to take ownership of their learning when they understand that the goal is to improve learning, not apply final marks (Trumbull and Lash, 2013). It can include students assessing themselves, peers, or even the instructor, through writing, quizzes, conversation, and more. In short, formative assessment occurs throughout a class or course, and seeks to improve student achievement of learning objectives through approaches that can support specific student needs (Theal and Franklin, 2010, p. 151). 

In contrast, summative assessments evaluate student learning, knowledge, proficiency, or success at the conclusion of an instructional period, like a unit, course, or program. Summative assessments are almost always formally graded and often heavily weighted (though they do not need to be). Summative assessment can be used to great effect in conjunction and alignment with formative assessment, and instructors can consider a variety of ways to combine these approaches. 

Examples of Formative and Summative Assessments

Both forms of assessment can vary across several dimensions (Trumbull and Lash, 2013): 

  • Informal / formal
  • Immediate / delayed feedback
  • Embedded in lesson plan / stand-alone
  • Spontaneous / planned
  • Individual / group
  • Verbal / nonverbal
  • Oral / written
  • Graded / ungraded
  • Open-ended response / closed/constrained response
  • Teacher initiated/controlled / student initiated/controlled
  • Teacher and student(s) / peers
  • Process-oriented / product-oriented
  • Brief / extended
  • Scaffolded (teacher supported) / independently performed 


Formative Assessment   Ideally, formative assessment strategies improve teaching and learning simultaneously. Instructors can help students grow as learners by actively encouraging them to self-assess their own skills and knowledge retention, and by giving clear instructions and feedback. Seven principles (adapted from Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2007 with additions) can guide instructor strategies:

  • Keep clear criteria for what defines good performance - Instructors can explain criteria for A-F graded papers, and encourage student discussion and reflection about these criteria (this can be accomplished though office hours, rubrics, post-grade peer review, or exam / assignment wrappers ). Instructors may also hold class-wide conversations on performance criteria at strategic moments throughout a term.
  • Encourage students’ self-reflection - Instructors can ask students to utilize course criteria to evaluate their own or a peer’s work, and to share what kinds of feedback they find most valuable. In addition, instructors can ask students to describe the qualities of their best work, either through writing or group discussion.
  • Give students detailed, actionable feedback - Instructors can consistently provide specific feedback tied to predefined criteria, with opportunities to revise or apply feedback before final submission. Feedback may be corrective and forward-looking, rather than just evaluative. Examples include comments on multiple paper drafts, criterion discussions during 1-on-1 conferences, and regular online quizzes.
  • Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning - Instructors can invite students to discuss the formative learning process together. This practice primarily revolves around mid-semester feedback and small group feedback sessions , where students reflect on the course and instructors respond to student concerns. Students can also identify examples of feedback comments they found useful and explain how they helped. A particularly useful strategy, instructors can invite students to discuss learning goals and assignment criteria, and weave student hopes into the syllabus.
  • Promote positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem - Students will be more motivated and engaged when they are assured that an instructor cares for their development. Instructors can allow for rewrites/resubmissions to signal that an assignment is designed to promote development of learning. These rewrites might utilize low-stakes assessments, or even automated online testing that is anonymous, and (if appropriate) allows for unlimited resubmissions.
  • Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance - Related to the above, instructors can improve student motivation and engagement by making visible any opportunities to close gaps between current and desired performance. Examples include opportunities for resubmission, specific action points for writing or task-based assignments, and sharing study or process strategies that an instructor would use in order to succeed.  
  • Collect information which can be used to help shape teaching - Instructors can feel free to collect useful information from students in order to provide targeted feedback and instruction. Students can identify where they are having difficulties, either on an assignment or test, or in written submissions. This approach also promotes metacognition , as students are asked to think about their own learning. Poorvu Center staff can also perform a classroom observation or conduct a small group feedback session that can provide instructors with potential student struggles. 

Instructors can find a variety of other formative assessment techniques through Angelo and Cross (1993), Classroom Assessment Techniques (list of techniques available here ).

Summative Assessment   Because summative assessments are usually higher-stakes than formative assessments, it is especially important to ensure that the assessment aligns with the goals and expected outcomes of the instruction.  

  • Use a Rubric or Table of Specifications - Instructors can use a rubric to lay out expected performance criteria for a range of grades. Rubrics will describe what an ideal assignment looks like, and “summarize” expected performance at the beginning of term, providing students with a trajectory and sense of completion. 
  • Design Clear, Effective Questions - If designing essay questions, instructors can ensure that questions meet criteria while allowing students freedom to express their knowledge creatively and in ways that honor how they digested, constructed, or mastered meaning. Instructors can read about ways to design effective multiple choice questions .
  • Assess Comprehensiveness - Effective summative assessments provide an opportunity for students to consider the totality of a course’s content, making broad connections, demonstrating synthesized skills, and exploring deeper concepts that drive or found a course’s ideas and content. 
  • Make Parameters Clear - When approaching a final assessment, instructors can ensure that parameters are well defined (length of assessment, depth of response, time and date, grading standards); knowledge assessed relates clearly to content covered in course; and students with disabilities are provided required space and support.
  • Consider Blind Grading - Instructors may wish to know whose work they grade, in order to provide feedback that speaks to a student’s term-long trajectory. If instructors wish to provide truly unbiased summative assessment, they can also consider a variety of blind grading techniques .

Considerations for Online Assessments

Effectively implementing assessments in an online teaching environment can be particularly challenging. The Poorvu Center shares these  recommendations .

Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 2-19.

Theall, M. and Franklin J.L. (2010). Assessing Teaching Practices and Effectiveness for Formative Purposes. In: A Guide to Faculty Development. KJ Gillespie and DL Robertson (Eds). Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd.


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  • Summative Assessments: Types

Below are some types of assessments that are commonly used to gauge learning at the end of a unit or course. While the focus here is primarily on the use of these assessments for summative purposes, these can also be utilized as formative assessments , to track student learning during a course. For each, we make suggestions for ways to design these assessments to be equity-minded and recommend further readings and resources. 

Exams typically consist of a set of questions that are aimed at eliciting a specific response. They can include a range of question formats, such as multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blank questions, labeling diagrams, or providing short answer questions. When designing exam questions, it is important to consider the principles of equity-minded assessment. This involves making exam questions that are:

  • Relevant : Test concepts are aligned with the course learning objectives. Additionally, questions involve applying course concepts to problems and situations that are relevant to students’ interests and skills. 
  • Authentic: Require students to apply skills that may be utilized in their professional and personal lives (e.g., critical thinking and collaboration). Questions also test a range of learning outcomes from those requiring lower-order cognitive skills such as recollection or understanding to those requiring higher-order cognitive skills such as evaluation and application of concepts (e.g., case studies that allow application of concepts to real-world problems).
  • Rigorous: Focus on application of skills or creation of new knowledge to novel or complex situations, rather than recollection of facts. Can involve multi-step problem solving or require students to justify a given answer through reasoning. 
  • Transparent: Explicit about the knowledge and skills being tested in the exam. The scoring system for each question is known to students while taking the exam (e.g., each question specifies if answers are marked for both accuracy and process or if there is negative marking for writing the wrong answer). Providing students with practice questions that illustrate the types of questions they may encounter on the exam can especially help international and first-generation students who may be unfamiliar with predominant assessment strategies.  
  • Inclusive: Describe scenarios, names, or contexts that reflect the lived experiences of diverse students, without assuming specific cultural knowledge. Questions do not rely on knowledge of concepts that are not already taught in the course. Characterized by use of clear, concise, and unambiguous language (e.g., avoid double negative statements, jargon, complex words). This is particularly important when instructors are unavailable to clarify what the particular question is testing, for example in online exams and in large classes. 

Open-book or group-based exams that require critical thinking, collaboration, and analytical skills to arrive at an answer may be one way to implement exams that follow the above principles (Johanns et al., 2016; Martin et al., 2014). Incorporating exam wrappers as a follow-up is known to promote good learning strategies by helping students self-assess and engage in metacognition (Lovett, 2013). Explore some additional resources on writing good multiple choice exam questions (Brame 2013), incorporating group-exams (Chen 2018) or exam wrappers (Carnegie Mellon University). Also consider our guidelines on best practices for designing summative assessments and effective online exam design and administration .


Brame, C. (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions . Vanderbilt University. 

Chen, Y. (2018). Collaborative learning through group testing . Center for Teaching and Learning, Kent State University.

Division of Learning and Teaching. (2022, March 30). Exams . Charles Sturt University.

Lovett, M. C. (2013). Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition . In Kaplan, M., Silver, N, Lavaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D. Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning . Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA., pp. 18-52.

Johanns, A., Dinkens, J., & Moore, J. (2017). A systematic review comparing open-book and closed-book examinations: Evaluating effects on development of critical thinking skills . Nursing Education in Practice , 27, 89-94.

Martin, D., Friesen, E., & De Pau, A. (2014). Three heads are better than one: A mixed methods study examining collaborative versus traditional test-taking with nursing students . Nurse Education Today , 34 (6), 971–977.

Projects are a powerful way to assess student learning in a relevant, authentic, rigorous, transparent, and inclusive manner. Projects typically involve a sequence of steps that must be completed within a defined timeline to create a novel product. Examples of common products include: 

1. Presentations: 

These usually involve a slide deck (e.g., PowerPoint) or poster designed to support an oral exposition describing the motivation and outcome of a project. Compared to written papers or portfolios, presentations can be efficient forms of assessment to test higher-order thinking, application, and communication skills since grading can take place in real-time. However, presentations can be time consuming to execute, particularly in classes with high student enrollment ( > 150 students). Presentations conducted in small groups and, when possible, during lab or recitation sections may be one of the ways to incorporate presentations in large classes. Group presentations are also good avenues to promote peer-based learning along with skills in collaboration, communication, and time management. Learn more about designing oral presentations (McCaroll, 2016), best practices to design group projects (Carnegie Mellon University) and evaluate group projects (Cornell University) 

2. Research Papers: 

Typically assigned in upper-level classes, research papers tend to involve a structured written report describing the motivation, methods, results, and conclusions of a project (research-based or literature syntheses) following the IMRaD format with a reference list. These assessments help students demonstrate their organizational, critical thinking, and writing skills in a manner relevant and authentic to research-based disciplines in which such papers are the dominant mode of communication.

For students, structuring and organizing thoughts in a research paper tends to be difficult without adequate practice and support. Additionally, for instructors,  research papers can be difficult to grade and provide feedback in a timely manner, given the volume of content produced by each student. Scaffolding student work and incorporating opportunities for peer feedback are some ways in which these problems can be mitigated. Scaffolding may involve providing adequate guidance to students on conducting literature searches and training them on the use of tools such as citation managers or AI search engines . Providing appropriate rubrics in advance for students to evaluate their own work or engage in peer-assessments are other ways in which students can receive timely feedback before submitting their work. Use Ohio State University’s guiding questions to effectively design research or inquiry-based assessments . 

3. Essays or Commentaries:

Essays are longer written papers that ask students to respond to a prompt by explaining a point of view in response to a prompt along with supporting evidence. Since essays are open-ended, they allow students to demonstrate their understanding and interpretation in a creative and individualistic style. Essays are helpful in assessing student understanding and skill across various dimensions, particularly their literary, creative or critical thinking skills. However, similar to research papers, essays can be difficult for students to write and can be difficult for instructors to grade in a timely manner. Scaffolding, providing a clear rubric, writing samples and incorporating peer feedback are few ways in which essays can be implemented in a rigorous, transparent and inclusive manner, without being burdensome for students and instructors. It is also important to consider and comply with norms set by FERPA , when sharing work of students from past classes. More examples can be found on WAC Clearinghouse’s resource on designing writing assignments (Kiefer, 2018).

With the increased accessibility and ease of AI writing tools, however, instructors must take care to be explicit about the appropriate use of AI in writing given the potential for plagiarism. This may include having a syllabus statement on the use of AI in grading policies and assessments, discussing the ethics of plagiarism, training students on using AI as a writing assistant (e.g., to provide structure, check for grammar or spelling), and being transparent about the benefit for students to fully engage in the writing process (Matthews, 2023). Learn more about teaching & learning in the age of AI on our website.

4. Digital Storyboards: 

With the ease and accessibility of digital media, some final projects can involve more creative depictions of a project from conception to outcome in the form of artwork, films, photographs or audio-based storyboards. Storyboards can be a powerful medium of communication since it helps an audience visualize the main message of a written text in an easy and digestible manner. Storyboards can involve a variety of elements, e,g., original artwork, curation of images, background music, a narrative script or dialogue, all of which are laid out in an intentional order that together tell a story. As such storyboards are rigorous and authentic forms of assessments, since they require students to employ multiple, higher order thinking skills and learn to collaborate with peers to present their point of view. Thus, storyboards can particularly benefit from scaffolding. 

One way to scaffold may be to provide prompts that draw student attention to varied elements of a sample storyboard, in a sequential manner and help students  evaluate how the elements support the narrative. Following this, instructors may have students complete parts of an existing sample storyboard to master each element. Finally, instructors should attempt to provide a clear rubric that is transparent about the skills being evaluated and the level of performance expected of students. In order to be inclusive and just, instructors should also consider student access to material needed to produce a high-quality storyboard since such material tends to be fairly expensive. This may include providing access to a repository of art material, videography equipment etc. through a library or local repository and/or arranging for funds that allow students to procure necessary equipment or software. Explore Macalaster University’s compilation of resources to design digital storyboard projects and evaluate storyboards . More examples can also be found on University of Houston’s repository of digital stories (Dogan, 2021).

Projects are equity-minded assessments if they are:

  • Relevant: Include tasks such as application of knowledge, presentation skills, critical thinking or collaboration skills, each of which should correspond to learning goals of a course.
  • Authentic: Engage students to apply knowledge and skills to address a novel problem. Ideally, the problem addressed is at the intersection of real-world application of knowledge or skills, needs of a discipline, and students' own interests.
  • Rigorous: Require application of higher-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking, synthesis, and application of knowledge to a new context over multiple steps. For example, to produce a research paper, students need to identify a gap in the field, read primary literature, conduct analyses/experiments, verify findings using multiple sources, and write findings in a logical and cohesive manner. However, it is important for these projects to be well-structured and potentially be scaffolded wherein instructors provide more guidance on components of a project early on, and gradually have students independently complete the work as they gain more competency. Scaffolding provides students with adequate support to achieve the high standards set by rigorous assessments. 
  • Transparent: Explicit about the learning objectives and the metrics by which performance will be assessed. Provide students with a detailed rubric listing the criteria for evaluation and standards of performance expected in advance. Providing samples of successful projects completed by students in the past can also help make projects more transparent. 
  • Inclusive: Allows for diverse student interests, voices, and forms of creative expression in how the project is designed and presented.

Explore Champlain University’s guidelines on designing project assignments and Boston University’s suggestions for implementing project-based learning .

Center for Teaching and Learning. (2021, May 06). Project-Based Learning: Teaching Guide . Boston University

Division of Learning and Teaching (2022, March 30). Essay . Charles Sturt University.

Dogan, B. (2021). Example stories . The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling Website. University of Houston College of Education.

Matthews, D. (2023, March 14). If you’re not using CHATGPT for your writing, you’re probably making a mistake . Vox. 

Portfolios refer to a collection of work curated by students to provide evidence for the quality of work they have done and have the potential to do in the future (Vitale & Romance, 2005). Portfolios can include all or a selection of work done in a course and usually also include a component of reflective writing (Dibrell, n.d.). Although more common in performance-based disciplines such as humanities and art, portfolios can also be used in science and engineering to similarly evaluate demonstrated proficiency and potential (e.g., CV , research statements , ePortfolios/websites ). Alternately, portfolios may be composed of research papers, presentations, or concept maps . Portfolios align with equity-minded assessments when they are: 

  • Relevant: Include a wide repertoire of student work that is related to the course content and objectives, as well as student interests and goals. 
  • Authentic: Evaluate learning that simultaneously draws on multiple levels of cognitive demand, including synthesis, application and creation of new knowledge. Further, the work is typically aligned directly with future professional career paths that students will pursue.
  • Rigorous: Consists of a sample of work drawn from a larger body of work that students complete throughout the course. The work typically requires students to employ a range of higher order thinking skills including analytical reasoning, collaboration, problem solving etc.
  • Transparent: Co-creating rubrics with students in the class allows making expectations for the assessment explicit and inclusive of student voice. This is important because students and instructors may differ in their aesthetic sensibilities, making portfolios difficult to evaluate in a consistent manner. Utilizing a checklist or single-point rubric when grading student portfolios is recommended since such rubrics help provide a more uniform application of standards (meets/does not yet meet expectations), while leaving scope for subjective feedback on what students have done well and what they could improve on.
  • Inclusive: Enables diverse student voice and expression since students curate their own collection. In some cases, allow students to include early pieces of work to evaluate the extent to which students have grown and expanded their skillset. Consider securing funds to reimburse students for materials, tools or other resources needed to complete the portfolio, making such assessments inclusive for students from marginalized backgrounds. 

Explore tools such as digication to learn more about systematic ways to evaluate and assign portfolios in a transparent manner. Click on the respective links to view examples of CU undergraduate student portfolios in art , engineering and English . You can also find more examples on ASSETT’s BuffsCreate , a service providing all CU learners access to a subdomain and support to create an ePortfolio.  

Dibrell, D. (n.d.). Designing reflective writing assignments . The University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.

Vitale, M. R. & Romance, N. R. (2005). Portfolios in science assessment: A knowledge-based model for classroom practice . In J. J. Mintzes, J. H. Wandersee, & J. D. Novak (Eds.), Assessing Science Understanding: A Human Constructivist View, Educational Psychology. Burlington: Academic Press. (pp. 167–196). Burlington, VT: Academic Press.

Further readings and resources:

You can find additional resources and references below to learn more about incorporating different types of summative assessments and feedback in your class. Particularly notable is the NILOA Assignment Library , which provides a detailed description of best practices in incorporating the above assessments in each discipline in an equity-minded manner. Charles Sturt University also has a substantive overview of assessment types and best practices in designing them . For individualized support, you may also schedule a consultation with our team .

Division of Learning and Teaching. (2022, March 30). Assessment types . Charles Sturt University.

Montenegro, E., & Jankowski, N. A. (2020, January). A new decade for assessment: Embedding equity into assessment praxis (Occasional Paper No. 42). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

Chan, J. C. K. & Ahn, D. (2023). Unproctored online exams provide meaningful assessment of student learning . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . 120 (31): e230202012

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Summative Assessment and Feedback

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Summative assessments are given to students at the end of a course and should measure the skills and knowledge a student has gained over the entire instructional period. Summative feedback is aimed at helping students understand how well they have done in meeting the overall learning goals of the course.

Effective summative assessments

Effective summative assessments provide students a structured way to demonstrate that they have met a range of key learning objectives and to receive useful feedback on their overall learning. They should align with the course learning goals and build upon prior formative assessments. These assessments will address how well the student is able to synthesize and connect the elements of learning from the entirety of the course into a holistic understanding and provide an opportunity to provide rich summative feedback.

The value of summative feedback

Summative feedback is essential for students to understand how far they have come in meeting the learning goals of the course, what they need further work on, and what they should study next. This can affect later choices that students make, particularly in contemplating and pursuing their major fields of study. Summative feedback can also influence how students regard themselves and their academic disciplines after graduation.

Use rubrics to provide consistency and transparency

A rubric is a grading guide for evaluating how well students have met a learning outcome. A rubric consists of performance criteria, a rating scale, and indicators for the different rating levels. They are typically in a chart or table format. 

Instructors often use rubrics for both formative and summative feedback to ensure consistency of assessment across different students. Rubrics also can make grading faster and help to create consistency between multiple graders and across assignments.

Students might be given access to the rubric before working on an assignment. No criteria or metric within a summative assessment should come as a surprise to the students. Transparency with students on exactly what is being assessed can help them more effectively demonstrate how much they have learned.  

Types of  summative assessments

Different summative assessments are better suited to measuring different kinds of learning. 


Examinations are useful for evaluating student learning in terms of remembering information, and understanding and applying concepts and ideas. However, exams may be less suited to evaluating how well students are able to analyze, evaluate, or create things related to what they've learned.


A presentation tasks the student with teaching others what they have learned typically by speaking, presenting visual materials, and interacting with their audience. This can be useful for assessing a student's ability to critically analyze and evaluate a topic or content.

With projects, students will create something, such as a plan, document, artifact, or object, usually over a sustained period of time, that demonstrates skills or understanding of the topic of learning. They are useful for evaluating learning objectives that require high levels of critical thinking, creativity, and coordination. Projects are good opportunities to provide summative feedback because they often build on prior formative assessments and feedback. 

With a portfolio, students create and curate a collection of documents, objects, and artifacts that collectively demonstrate their learning over a wide range of learning goals. Portfolios usually include the student's reflections and metacognitive analysis of their own learning. Portfolios are typically completed over a sustained period of time and are usually done by individual students as opposed to groups. 

Portfolios are particularly useful for evaluating how students' learning, attitudes, beliefs, and creativity grow over the span of the course. The reflective component of portfolios can be a rich form of self-feedback for students. Generally, portfolios tend to be more holistic and are often now done using ePortfolios .

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Sarah Schaible

November 23rd, 2021, how to approach formative essays at lse.

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summative writing essay

As teachers will tell you, formative essays are the best opportunity to get feedback on your work. This is particularly important if you are studying a qualitative subject. Quantitative courses have more frequent homework assessments, but for any other modules, you only get the opportunity to submit your own work once or twice a term.

Having made the general importance of formatives clear, here are my pieces of advice:

1. Start early

By this, I don’t mean to start writing weeks before the deadline. However, I have found that it pays off to think about the topic early, perhaps once you receive the assignment prompt. This allows you to think about the topic in classes in the back of your head and might give you good ideas later on. Besides, this also means you will be able to clarify any questions.

2. Be strategic

Continuing about topic selection, it is worth thinking about the summative assignment when choosing your topic. This matters especially when your graded assignment is based on coursework, meaning you will submit an extended essay. Often, you will be able to draw and expand on the research you already did during the term. In my Master’s for instance, I submitted outlines and topic proposals for summative essays.

Being strategic also matters when the final assessment takes place in form of a timed exam. Most exams will require you to be strategic and choose topics to specialise in. Therefore, if you find something interesting during the term, you will be able to save yourself a lot of time later if you’ve already written an essay on it.

3. Plan ahead

To avoid stress just before the deadline of the formative, make sure to make a rough plan of when you are going to write your essay. I tend to do readings and then choose a day to sit down and write the essay. This doubles as practice for exams.

4. Prioritise

It often gets to week six or seven of the term and suddenly you have to fit in several assignments with your usual weekly tasks. This is undeniably stressful. To avoid burning out, it is worth considering whether you want to prioritise some tasks over others. Not everything needs to get done at once. It’s okay to do one thing at a time and plan on catching up on other tasks later in the term.

5. Implement feedback

The last step is key in making the most of your assignment. Look at the feedback that is given to you and try to take steps to implement it for future essays. You could, for example, go back to your notes and make changes. If you still have open questions, go to office hours or email your professors. This has often helped me to get an even better understanding.

These strategies have helped me to manage the increased workload in the middle of term. The most important thing to keep in mind: assignment season is temporary. Once your essays are submitted, there will be time to catch up on readings and enjoy more free time again. While making a start on an essay is always daunting, in my experience, completing it is very rewarding.

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Hi, I'm Sarah! I am an LSE BA Anthropology and Law graduate and a current LLM student.

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Assessment for Learning at King's

Cohort feedback from formative to summative assessment on legal essays

30th August 2022 Jayne Pearson Disciplinary Feedback Case Studies 0

summative writing essay

Instructor:  Dr Darren Harvey Module:  level 4 Two core modules: EU law and Public law Feedback approach: Cohort feedback feeding from formative to summative assessment on legal essays

Why did you introduce this approach to feedback?

I teach on two of four core modules for first year undergraduate LLB (Law).  At the law school, we attract a diverse cohort from all over the world, with students coming from many different educational and linguistic backgrounds. This is exciting, but it also brings with it some challenges in terms of equity and ensuring that everyone starts on a level playing field. This is particularly important in relation to the ways we assess in law, with legal essays forming a core component of both exams and coursework assignments.

Many of our first-year students have never written an essay, let alone a legal essay which has its own conventions and expectations. All summative core modules will have a legal essay writing component (our exams are a mix of case-based problems and essay questions).  My modules each have a 30% summative essay. Consequently, learning how to write legal essays is a vital skill for students to learn and to develop over time.  We want students to be able to feel confident in starting to write legal essays. We also want them to feel like they are not being disadvantaged by the fact that they might not initially have had the same level of experience of essay writing when compared to other students.

Many first-year students make requests for model answers, especially if they are used to this in their previous education systems. The law school takes the view that providing model answers to students is not a good idea, as it stymies both creativity and self-directed learning – two core skills that we would like students to develop and take responsibility for, particularly by analysing their own work. My approach to cohort feedback in this case study provides a good halfway house in this regard, since it helps to reassure students and begins to build confidence in those who are coming to legal essay writing for the first time.

How do you approach giving feedback in this way?

The strategy or feedback approach that I take in the law school actually has a number of steps over the course of the module:

  • WEEK THREE: I compile a list of Dos and Don’ts when it comes to writing legal essays. This list is compiled from my own experience of teaching previous cohorts of undergraduate law students at KCL and elsewhere in the UK:  Feedback Slides.  The list covers generic points such as the use of headings and the need for a clearly defined structure, as well as recommendations that are more specific to writing essays in the law school. This list is circulated to students in the week 3 tutorial, thereby giving them a full week to digest its contents before the deadline for their first formative assessment in week 4. In addition, we spend around 15 minutes in class at the end of Tutorial 3 discussing the list and answering any questions about its contents and the essay questions in general.  This approach ensures that students will pay more attention to the material than if we just put the information on KEATS, for example. It also provides students with multiple opportunities to ask questions.


  • WEEK FOUR: Students then write their first legal essay as a formative assignment and submit this before week four’s tutorial. When writing their essays, students are encouraged to regularly refer of the list from week 3 to help them with this writing task.
  • WEEK FIVE- SIX: Essays are marked with individual feedback given . I provide individualised written feedback on every essay that is submitted. In so doing, I make reference to the bullet points contained in the abovementioned list as much as possible when providing this feedback. (Naturally, I sometimes need to give feedback to students regarding the substance of the law itself, errors in the application of legal principles etc.). I do this so that students can easily understand the feedback provided, since it specifically refers back the points raised on the list and discussed during tutorial 3. By signposting what the students have done well and what they need to better with reference to the list, students can see the value of the feedforward/feedback process.
  • WEEK NINE: In class, we have feedback tutorials with cohort feedback . Having already received and read their individual feedback, students come to class with their essays, and we do group cohort feedback. This involves considering things done well by the group (I have 8-9 tutorial groups so feedback is tailored to the group). I make reference back to the original bullet point list of dos and don’ts, but of course common errors made on the substance of the law, application of legal principles etc. are also addressed. This ensures that the feedforward to the summative assessment – which is also an essay question – is made explicit. After I have provided cohort feedback, we open things up to class discussion and I provide multiple opportunities for students to seek clarification about anything related to the essay writing task. I always finish the session by asking students the following question: “If I asked you to complete the same essay exercise again tonight, are you confident that you could now do a better job than your first attempt?” If the answer is yes, we are well on the way to making good progress with legal essay writing.
  • AFTER EXAMS: I compile summative exam reports. At the end of the examination period, teaching staff write assessment reports for each core module, detailing which parts of the exams were done well and less well by the entire undergraduate cohort (see link to this in blog). In writing assessment reports, the terminology that I use in my formative individualized and cohort feedback, as well as my bullet point list of dos and don’ts, feature prominently in my remarks.

What benefits did you see?

  • This approach flags to students that they are getting feedback! It ensures that feedback is a continuous process and that it is not just something that is provided in summative reports at the end of term (by which time it is often too late to be of much use). Every step of the process is explicitly signposted to students so that they feel supported from the moment the essay question is released until long after their work has been submitted.
  • Feed-forward and feedback builds confidence in This is especially noticeable in first year where students are attempting legal essay writing for the first time. Giving students clear pointers on best practice before they attempt the exercise helps to reassure them that the task is not impossible or overly daunting – it is a formative after all! However, this confidence and familiarity with the essential components of best practice in essay writing hopefully feeds forward into their summative exams and beyond into 2 nd and 3 rd year modules.
  • The approach fosters self-directed learning. Students are each given individual feedback for them to reflect upon in light of their first attempt at an essay. Additionally, they are still required to engage with cohort feedback and a group discussion after the formative assessment. They can then apply feedback from both of these avenues to their own work.
  • Feed-forward and feedback aims to boost inclusivity. I am well aware of the diversity of knowledge, experience and linguistic ability across the first-year undergraduate cohort of over 300 students. My approach to feedback ensures that students start their first attempts at legal essay writing on a (sort of) even playing field by giving them all the same list of dos and don’ts from the outset.
  • Performance improvement is another key outcome of this approach : if students stick to the guidance, their essays tend to be well-structured, properly referenced and contain a clearly articulated argument in relation to the question asked. This not only helps to organise the students’ thinking, it also makes their essays much easier to mark!
  • The methodology adopted above has received glowing feedback from students, who note that ‘ Mr Darren Harvey’s way of teaching is very effective. Everyone was given equal opportunity in class, and he had ensured that everyone is involved in class discussion. I really like how he would clarify and summarise the answer to each question…making sure that everything is clarified and that everyone understands it”

What challenges have you encountered, and how have you addressed them?

  • I make sure to inform students ahead of Week 3 that the tutorial that week will entail guidance on the first formative assessment of the year. This means that students who do not come to that class do not get the bullet-point list of dos and donts. I think this incentivises them to turn up and, more importantly, to get more out of the experience by being afforded multiple opportunities to ask questions and seek clarification about the upcoming assessment. I accept, however, that this might not be the most inclusive policy. By signposting that assessment guidance will take place in Week 3, students who are unable to attend for whatever reason can email to ask for information on what they might have missed. The alternative would be to post the list on KEATS and make it accessible to all from Week 3 onwards. My worry with this, however, is that it might disincentive students from showing up and engaging with the assessment rubric in-person.
  • There is always a worry that feedforward and feedback in both individual and cohort formats is excessive. Some students might not see the benefit of so much feedback if they feel that they have gained what they need from their individualised written feedback. In my experience this is rare amongst first year students who are attempting essay questions for the first time. Students are overwhelmingly in favour of this volume of feedback and at this early stage in their studies are typically very keen to learn about expectations around assessments. The approach taken in 1 st year might not work as well for other levels and years of the degree as students become more familiarised with the assessment rubric in general and place more value on receiving individualised feedback. The fact that they do get some formative personalised feedback helps to mitigate any student issues with cohort feedback.
  • There is always a discrepancy in the quantity and frequency of feedback given to students across any large undergraduate module. Processes and practices of providing feedback vary considerably amongst colleagues. The same can be said for the compiling of summative assessment reports. This can create a disparity because not all colleagues do this in the same way.
  • Students place a disproportionate emphasis upon word limits in their essays. There is a tendency each year for students to sacrifice a good structure by using headings and sub-headings in order to save a few words for the main body of the text. No amount of formative or summative feedback seems to prevent a sizable number of students from doing this every year. Whilst being able to write in a concise manner is a core skill for lawyers, so too is the ability to set out your thoughts clearly in a well-structured and well-reasoned way. Often making use of every word within the word limit is prioritised over all other considerations on the bullet point list, even when we talk about this not being the be all and end all.
  • Not all students get involved in the discussion in the tutorial. This is common to all tutorials. However, because the feedforward and feedback classes are related to assessments, students appear to be more inclined to contribute in class than at other points in the year. However, I would like to think about how to create more participation in these tutorials.

What are your next steps?

  • I am considering how I can get students to apply my post-formative cohort feedback to their work more explicitly, maybe through a self-evaluation document.
  • Peer feedback could be an option, but I feel this might expose students to unhelpful criticism or even imposter syndrome at this stage. It is something I would like to do in years 2 or 3 of the degree once everyone is more comfortable with essay writing and has had plenty of experience in completing formative and summative assessments. My approach is very much geared towards confidence-building at this early stage in the degree.
  • As previously mentioned, model answers are generally avoided in the law school and are almost unanimously perceived to be a bad idea. That said, I might consider using exemplars of best practice from previous essays so that students can deconstruct what an excellent essay looks like by highlighting elements for them. This could be done using other students’ work obtained with permission or by making my own examples. Crucially though, students have to work with the text rather than just use it as a model.
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Guest Essay

Saying Goodbye to My Brilliant Friend, the Poetry Critic Helen Vendler

Two books, with nothing on their covers, sitting on a plain background. The two books are at close to a right angle with each other and most of their pages are touching.

By Roger Rosenblatt

The author, most recently, of “Cataract Blues: Running the Keyboard.”

One makes so few new friends in older age — I mean, real friends, the ones you bond with and hold dear, as if you’d known one another since childhood.

Old age often prevents, or at least tempers, such discoveries. The joy of suddenly finding someone of compatible tastes, politics, intellectual interests and sense of humor can be shadowed, if tacitly, by the inevitable prospect of loss.

I became friends with Helen Vendler — the legendary poetry critic who died last week — six years ago, after she came to a talk I gave at Harvard about my 1965-66 Fulbright year in Ireland. Our friendship was close at the outset and was fortified and deepened by many letters between us, by our writing.

Some critics gain notice by something new they discover in the literature they examine. Helen became the most important critic of the age by dealing with something old and basic — the fact that great poetry was, well, lovable. Her vast knowledge of it was not like anyone else’s, and she embraced the poets she admired with informed exuberance.

The evening we met, Helen and I huddled together for an hour, maybe two, speaking of the great Celtic scholar John Kelleher, under whom we had both studied; of Irish poetry; and of our families. Helen was born to cruelly restrictive Irish Catholic parents who would not think of her going to anything but a Catholic college. When Helen rebelled against them, she was effectively tossed out and never allowed to return home.

She told me all this at our very first meeting. And I told her the sorrows of my own life — the untimely death of my daughter, Amy, and the seven-plus years my wife, Ginny, and I spent helping to rear her three children. And I told Helen unhappy things about my own upbringing. The loneliness. I think we both sensed that we had found someone we could trust with our lives.

I never asked Helen why she had come to my talk in the first place, though I had recognized her immediately. After spending a life with English and American poetry — especially the poetry of Wallace Stevens — how could I not? The alert tilt of her head, the two parenthetical lines around the mouth that always seemed on the verge of saying something meaningful and the sad-kind-wise eyes of the most significant literary figure since Edmund Wilson.

And unlike Wilson, Helen was never compelled to show off. She knew as much about American writing as Wilson, and, I believe, loved it more.

It was that, even more than the breadth and depth of her learning, that set her apart. She was a poet who didn’t write poetry, but felt it like a poet, and thus knew the art form to the core of her being. Her method of “close reading,” studying a poem intently word by word, was her way of writing it in reverse.

Weeks before Helen’s death and what would have been her 91st birthday, we exchanged letters. I had sent her an essay I’d just written on the beauty of wonder, stemming from the wonder so many people felt upon viewing the total solar eclipse earlier this month. I often sent Helen things I wrote. Some she liked less than others, and she was never shy to say so. She liked the essay on wonder, though she said she was never a wonderer herself, but a “hopeless pragmatist,” not subject to miracles, except upon two occasions. One was the birth of her son, David, whom she mentioned in letters often. She loved David deeply, and both were happy when she moved from epic Cambridge to lyrical Laguna Niguel, Calif., to be near him, as she grew infirm.

Her second miracle, coincidentally, occurred when Seamus Heaney drove her to see a solar eclipse at Tintern Abbey. There, among the Welsh ruins, Helen had an astonishing experience, one that she described to me in a way that seemed almost to evoke Wordsworth:

I had of course read descriptions of the phenomena of a total eclipse, but no words could equal the total-body/total landscape effect; the ceasing of bird song; the inexorability of the dimming to a crescent and then to a corona; the total silence; the gradual salience of the stars; the iciness of the silhouette of the towers; the looming terror of the steely eclipse of all of nature. Now that quelled utterly any purely “scientific” interest. One became pure animal, only animal, no “thought-process” being even conceivable.

One who claims not to know wonders shows herself to be one.

She was so intent on the beauty of the poets she understood so deeply, she never could see why others found her appreciations remarkable. Once, when I sent her a note complimenting her on a wonderfully original observation she’d made in a recent article, she wrote: “So kind of you to encourage me. I always feel that everything I say would be obvious to anyone who can read, so am always amazed when someone praises something.”

Only an innocent of the highest order would say such a beautiful, preposterous thing. When recently the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded her the Gold Medal for Belle Lettres and Criticism, Helen was shocked.

“You could have floored me when I got the call,” she wrote to me, adding: “Perhaps I was chosen by the committee because of my advanced age; if so, I can’t complain. The quote that came to mind was Lowell’s ‘My head grizzled with the years’ gold garbage.’”

She was always doing that — attaching a quotation from poetry to a thought or experience of her own, as if she occupied the same room as all the great poets, living with them as closely as loved ones in a tenement.

Shelley called poets the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” I never fully got that famous line. But if the legislators’ laws apply to feeling and conduct, I think he was onto something. If one reads poetry — ancient and modern — as deeply as Helen did, and stays with it, and lets it roll around in one’s head, the effect is transporting. You find yourself in a better realm of feeling and language. And nothing of the noisier outer world — not Donald Trump, not Taylor Swift — can get to you.

In our last exchange of letters, Helen told me about the death she was arranging for herself. I was brokenhearted to realize that I was losing someone who had given me and countless others so much thought and joy. Her last words to me were telling, though, and settled the matter as only practical, spiritual Helen could:

I feel not a whit sad at the fact of death, but massively sad at leaving friends behind, among whom you count dearly. I have always known what my true feelings are by whatever line of poetry rises unbidden to my mind on any occasion; to my genuine happiness, this time was a line from Herbert’s “Evensong,” in which God (always in Herbert, more like Jesus than Jehovah), says to the poet, “Henceforth repose; your work is done.”

She closed her letter as I closed my response. “Love and farewell.”

Roger Rosenblatt is the author, most recently, of “Cataract Blues: Running the Keyboard.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .


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