Summative Assessment Ideas

Student Papers:

  • Papers are a useful assessment technique when you want to analyze higher-level thinking and understanding of class material. Consider this method if you want to see your students practice analysis, application of the material in the form of an argument or thesis, interaction with conflicting perspectives, or flex their own creativity with respect to course material.
  • When assigning papers, it's important to keep in mind the amount of reading and feedback needed.  Overloading yourself may lead to delayed feedback to students in addition to personal frustration. 
  • For a more creative version of an academic paper, consider allowing students to use sources outside of only peer-reviewed articles and studies.
  • Remember, you know your field. Perhaps bring in an expert or relevant scholar to help inspire students before they write their papers. If you know the author of a book you are using in your teaching, see if you can have them visit your class using Zoom. This provides students an opportunity to hear another voice of authority and ask questions or get inspiration.
  • When constructing your paper, be sure to give clear grading guidelines. Creating a rubric for both yourself and your students will help alleviate the pressure when it comes time to grading for you or writing for them as you are giving them the key to success.
  • If you have assigned papers before, consider handing out an exceptional sample paper turned in by a previous student. This will give your students a target to aim for.
  • When you are doing your course design, consider breaking up the stages for your students, and assigning each separately. this will help them create a better paper with less stress and give you better papers at the end so you're not overwhelmed with avoidable errors. For example, assign an annotated bibliography, outline, thesis draft, rough draft, and final assignment.
  • Washington University in St. Louis' writing assignment sequence video can be a helpful resource when adding writing assignments into your curriculum design.
  • Washington University in St. Louis' effective writing video can assist in designing assignments that help students produce the best work possible.

The following resources address both online and in-person classes. However, most in-person techniques have online adaptations and if you'd like assistance, please let us know.

Resources from other institutions

Student Portfolios, Physical, and Electronic:

  • A portfolio can be a good, creative summation tool for the student's work over the course of a semester.
  • Portfolios can be used to show the growth of the student as well, this can allow you to see how well the student is learning and implementing the material. Through looking over the student's progress, you are able to see their competency exiting the course.
  • Additionally, students can gauge their own successes in the course, building confidence while allowing them to analyze their own performance and growth.
  • Depending on what you want to observe, you will need to decide early on if you want a physical or electronic portfolio. If most portfolio works are translatable to paper, the choice could make less of an impact. However, if you want students to have the option to include other media (ex. music, video, websites), an electronic portfolio is preferable.
  • Grading this form of the assignment should heavily weigh on the progress of the student over the course with details left up to the instructor.


  • Examinations can come in many different forms and the most important first step is to figure out what types of questions will best help you see whether students understand course concepts in the way you intend.  Some examples of question types include the following: essay, problems to be solved, multiple-choice, completion (fill-in-the-blank), matching, and short answer.
  • Regardless of the question types, it is important that they are clear and straightforward. While this applies to the material after your exam is written it should also apply to your layout. Do the questions make sense and are they presented in a way that is not confusing? Remember, just because it's straightforward to you, doesn't mean it's always going to be straightforward to the student. 
  • Be sure not to include questions that require knowledge or skills that have not been taught in the course. Problems should often be constructed based on examples and exercises practiced in the course with graduating difficulty.
  • Do not overload your exams! Make sure the amount of work you are requiring from your students is possible to complete in the exam time.
  • Avoid double jeopardy. If your exam question relies on a correct answer to a previous exam question, try reworking it so the problem is fresh and independent of other test material.
  • After writing your exam, give your mind a break before revisiting to classify what kind of questions you've written. For example, are they: translation, application, synthesis, evaluation, interpretation, or recall questions? Figuring this out will help you ensure you have a well-rounded exam.
  • Be sure your exam is fair. By considering the material your exam is covering, the types of questions you are asking, and the ability your students will have to complete their exam, you can double-check to be sure you are not favoring a specific group of your students and that everyone has a fair chance to succeed.
  • A second opinion can be useful. If you have a trusted peer, or better, a teaching assistant, for your course, ask them to review the exam. 
  • After tests are graded and returned, keep the exam for your records. It can always be helpful as a reference for future classes.
  • If you are more focused on multiple-choice, consider Vanderbilt's multiple choice question guide.
  • If you are interested in using exams as a learning tool, consider Vanderbilt's test-enhanced learning guide.