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Formative Assessment and Formative Feedback

Providing adequate formative feedback to students is a critical instructional task and an LCME Standard. LCME 9.7 requires that each student is provided formal formative feedback early enough during required courses or clerkships to allow ample time for remediation. That requires, at a minimum, that each course provides students with formal formative feedback at the mid-term. The Standard does consider feasibility issues, but those situations are exceptions. Barriers to providing effective informal and formal formative feedback are not insurmountable.

This blog presents one idea for providing feedback in both smaller and larger classes. There are many ways to effectively provide feedback, and some options are not feasible in some circumstances, so we invite faculty who have developed effective mechanisms for providing both informal and formal formative feedback on learning to share their ideas with colleagues in other disciplines and at other centers. If you would like to share your best practices on formative assessment, please e-mail or We would be happy to do a future blog post of faculty-generated ideas for formative feedback.

To be most useful, feedback should be given more frequently, particularly in semester-long courses with only a few major assessments contributing to the course grade. More frequent feedback can be given either formally or informally. While low-performing students stand to gain the most from early, frequent feedback, feedback is important to all students’ learning. Effective feedback on learning should be specific, and should provide direction for students’ learning behaviors. Although it is easier for faculty to give feedback, particularly narrative and face-to-face feedback, in smaller classes or classes with low student-to-faculty ratios, it is not impossible to give feedback in larger classes.

Data for formative feedback is ideally collected from formative assessments, which are low-stakes exercises with little or no impact on the final course grade, rather than from higher-stakes assessments, such as unit or mid-term exams. Students should receive at least informal feedback from formative assessments prior to any higher-stakes assessment. A mid-term score or grade can serve as part of the formal communication of formative feedback, but since the impact on the grade is substantial, students should first have received ample informal feedback from formative assessment.


Providing Item-Specific Feedback in Computer-Based Quizzing Systems

Oncourse Tests & Surveys, Canvas Quizzes, and ExamSoft quizzes allow faculty to enter automatically-delivered, specific, faculty-generated feedback for each possible response on a variety of different types of quiz items. Feedback can be used to correct misunderstandings or to direct students to particular readings or resources to help with understanding the material. If the quiz is required and you have associated specific feedback with each item, then you have provided one type of formal, formative feedback to guide students’ learning. Using a sufficient number of quiz items leading up to major assessments, either on a single quiz or over multiple quizzes, can provide a rich source of content-specific feedback that allows students to monitor and direct their learning prior to high-stakes assessments.

There is an initial workload in developing the quizzes and associated feedback, but because the items are formative, they can be used in subsequent classes. For more on how to deliver feedback in each of these systems, see the resources below or contact Lorie Shuck,


Oncourse Tests & Surveys: Help contents

Canvas Instructor Guide: Quizzes

ExamSoft: How do I use the rationale section?


The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Melissa Alexaner

Bio coming soon.