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Undergraduate

Explaining the difference between Formatives and Summatives.

Many students who first arrive in Durham are baffled over what on earth formatives and summatives are – I know I was. Not all universities have these and if they do, they may be called something different.

So what are formatives?

Formatives are pieces of work you write and submit to your lecturer. These are assessed but do not go towards your grade. What is the point of this then? This helps you to know what sort of level your work is at, it’s a way to get valuable comments on your work so then you know how to improve in the future. The comments can be invaluable, hence why it is important for you to do them (formatives aren’t compulsory for most departments, but are encouraged). Formatives can be different in structure, some may be an essay plan, others a full essay, some a practical write up and each with their own word count. I have found that if it’s an essay plan then it’s highly valuable, as lecturers comments help you know how to write the essay that does go towards your grade. These formatives can be for each module you take, and for each module it’s different. So make sure you check what it is in your module handbook or ask the lecturer.

So what does go towards your grades?

That’s where summatives come in. Summatives are pieces of work that do count towards your grade and most often come after a formative that usually helps in the planning for it. These summatives can be worth different percentages of your final module grade, dependant on each module. Likewise, they can be of different word counts. They may take several forms for example if it’s an essay; a research proposal or a practical write up. Summatives are compulsory and should be submitted by a certain date and time in order to be marked – make sure you submit in time!

From personal experience, I would highly recommend meeting with your lecturer for the particular module your work is on during their office hours (found on DUO) to ask for advice and pose any questions you have before the formative and summative is due. Likewise, go back to your lecturer after the work has been assessed to ask for feedback; why they marked it a certain way and put certain comments, just so you know how to improve in future and so you can understand why you were given your grade and how you can improve.

Freya Smellie


Hey, I’m Freya Smellie. I studied Anthropology at Durham, I was a Sponsorship Executive Member of Team Durham Polo Club, and I’m a media manager for Draper London – a luxury linen brand. I’m a country bumpkin who loves to travel and get involved in many new experiences. Hobbies include finding the best Bloody Marys!


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