Assessment Types:
Diagnostic, Formative and Summative

Diagnostic Assessment

Another type of assessment, which is given at the beginning of the course or the beginning of the unit/topic, is known as diagnostic assessment. This assessment is used to collect data on what students already know about the topic. Diagnostic assessments are sets of written questions (multiple choice or short answer) that assess a learner’s current knowledge base or current views on a topic/issue to be studied in the course. The goal is to get a snapshot of where students currently stand - intellectually, emotionally or ideologically - allowing the instructor to make sound instructional choices as to how to teach the new course content and what teaching approach to use.

They are often used pre- and post-instruction, where students are given identical pre- and post-tests before and after the course. This method allows instructors and students to chart their learning progress by comparing pre- and post-tests results. Some disciplines, such as physics, have developed a set of diagnostic tests such as Force Concept Inventory opens in new window that can be used by instructors.

Examples of diagnostic assessments:

Click on a tile to learn about how instructors in different disciplines use diagnostic assessments.


Instructor surveys students’ assumptions about the concepts that will be taught in the course (e.g. the nature of mind or behavior)

Introductory Physics

Instructor uses a set of conceptual questions to assess students understanding of fundamental concepts at the start of the course

Course with group work

Instructor surveys students prior experiences with group work and their attitudes towards group work, or conducts early term self-assessment

Course with sensitive/controversial topics

Instructor may survey students in order to reveal assumptions that they may bring to controversial questions