Best practices in summative assessment

The following best practice principles can guide instructor strategies for developing and implementing authentic assignments (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Yale, 2017).

Click each title to learn more about them.

Apply to your course: Resources & Tools 

Higher-Order Thinking SATs (Summative Assessment Techniques)

There are a number of ways to assess students’ development of new skills and mastery of course content besides a traditional exam—an assessment technique that is problematic and challenging, especially in online courses. The creative approaches highlighted below require the use of the higher order thinking skills that summative assessments are meant to assess (unlike a multiple-choice/short-answer test). The variety—especially if students are given options—also align with UDL principles.

The table below outlines summative assessment techniques along with the tools.




Slide-supported Presentation

Students (individually/in groups) give live or pre-recorded presentations on some aspect of the course.

Google Slides, PowerPoint, Zoom

Essay/ Paper

Analytical, persuasive, informative, evaluative, etc. When used in online teaching, papers can be submitted through Turnitin to check for plagiarism.

Canvas Assignments, Turnitin

Students as Teachers

Students tasked with teaching the class about some aspect of the course, using a teaching ‘platform’ or format that they choose; they have to ensure their fellow students understand the material.

Echo360, Voicethread, Zoom/polls, iClicker

TEDTalks Students record themselves giving a talk on a course topic in the style of a TEDtalk

Echo360, Zoom, Canvas Studio

Structured Debate

Students are assigned or choose a side of a controversial course topic, a fixed time to present their position, and speaking order in the debate. Debate can be done synchronously or asynchronously.  

Zoom, Voicethread

Research-based Articles Students write an article based on their own original or others’ research. Canvas
Literature Review/ Annotated Bibliography Students complete a literature review or annotated bibliography on a course topic. Canvas
Media Publication Students write an article about a complex course topic for the audience of a mainstream media publication – can be op-ed; a summary of an original research pub; book/film/play/exhibit review; etc. Canvas
Create the Test Students write an exam (multiple choice, fill-in-the-bank; etc.) covering major course topics; other students can take it! Google Forms
Create a Website Students develop a website to showcase, e.g.: their art, their political platform, their research, their organization/business

Explain Your Answers Students complete a multiple-choice/short answer exam, but also explain how they arrived at the answers they did (can also help reduce cheating issues). Canvas Quizzes


Brown University. Designing Grading Rubrics.

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2019). What makes for effective feedback: Staff and student perspectivesAssessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 25-36.

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

Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Designing Quality Multiple Choice Questions.

Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. (2017) Formative and Summative Assessments.

How to cite this page:

UMass Amherst IDEAS Team. (2024, March). Provide effective feedback on students' learning process.