Low-stakes assessments: An effective tool to improve marks in higher-stakes summative assessments? Evidence from commerce students at a South African university

Keywords: accounting, first-year students, formative assessments, summative assessments


The concept of practice makes perfect is often embedded in the decision to provide students with low-stakes formative and summative assessments with the intention of providing practice for higher-stakes summative assessments. The assumption is that participation in low-stakes formative and summative assessments will result in higher grades obtained in subsequent higher-stakes summative assessments. Using a quantitative approach, this study examined whether participation in low-stakes formative and summative assessments resulted in higher marks obtained in higher-stakes summative assessments. The findings of the study suggest that although in the majority of cases the participation of students in low-stakes formative or summative assessments resulted in higher marks obtained in subsequent summative assessments, an important planning consideration is the scope of the formative and summative assessments. The study found that when a low-stakes formative assessment does not cover the majority of the scope of the higher-stakes summative assessment, firstly, the participation percentage decreases significantly in comparison to other assessments that cover a larger portion of the scope of the following assessment. Secondly, the findings suggest that having a small, perhaps trivial, stake in terms of an assessment’s contribution to final mark versus no stake has a significant impact on the students’ participation levels, as well as the potential value added from participation in such assessments for future assessments. The findings also show that the quantity of low-stakes assessments does not necessarily need to be increased to increase the effectiveness of these interventions; instead, particular focus should be placed on ensuring that formative assessments cover the scope sufficiently of higher-stakes summative assessments if the intended purpose of these is to assist in improving marks in higher-stakes assessments. The findings suggest that the design of low-stakes formative and summative assessments are integral into the potential contribution these have on student performance in subsequent higher-stakes summative assessments.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

J. M. Ontong, Stellenbosch University

School of Accountancy; Lecturer


Aisbitt, S. and A. Sangster. 2005. “Using Internet-Based On-Line Assessment: A Case Study.” Accounting Education: An International Journal 14(4): 383–394.

Ayala, C. C., R. J. Shavelson, M. Araceli Ruiz-Primo, P. R. Brandon, Y. Yin, E. M. Furtak, D. B. Young, and M. K. Tomita. 2008. “From Formal Embedded Assessments to Reflective Lessons: The Development of Formative Assessment Studies.” Applied Measurement in Education 21(4): 315–334.

Biggs, J. 1999. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

Black, P. and D. Wiliam. 2010. “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards through Classroom Assessment.” Phi Delta Kappan 92(1): 81–90.

Boud, D. 1988. Developing Student Autonomy in Learning. London: Kogan Page.

Brooks, J. 2018. “Practice Makes Perfect: Student Experience Matters Most.” https://medium.com/ communityworksjournal/practice-makes-perfect-f6246720f43b.

Carrillo-De-La-Peña, M. T., E. Baillès, X. Caseras, À. Martínez, G. Ortet, and J. Pérez. 2009. “Formative Assessment and Academic Achievement in Pre-Graduate Students of Health Sciences.” Advances in Health Sciences Education 14(1): 61–67.

Curtis, S. M. 2011. “Formative Assessment in Accounting Education and Some Initial Evidence on its Use for Instructional Sequencing.” Journal of Accounting Education 29(4): 191–211.

Dixson, D. D. and F. C. Worrell. 2016. “Formative and Summative Assessment in the Classroom.” Theory into Practice 55(2): 153–59.

Dunn, K. E. and S. W. Mulvenon. 2009. “A Critical Review of Research on Formative Assessment: The Limited Scientific Evidence of the Impact of Formative Assessment in Education.” Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation 14(7): 1–11.

Elton, L. and B. Johnston. 2002. Assessment in Universities: A Critical Review of Research. York: LTSN Generic Centre.

Gardner, J. 2010. “Developing Teacher Assessments: An Introduction.” In Developing Teacher Assessment, ed. J. Gardner, W. Harlen, L. Hayward, G. Stobart, and M. Montgomery, 1‒11. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Open University Press.

Gibbs, G. and C. Simpson. 2005. “Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Students’ Learning.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 1: 3–31.

Heywood, J. 2000. Assessment in Higher Education: Student Learning, Teaching, Programmes and Institutions. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Holroyd, C. 2000. “Are Assessors Professional?” Active Learning in Higher Education 1(1): 28–44.

Khairil, L. F. and S. E. Mokshein. 2018. “21st-Century Assessment: Online Assessment.” International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences 8(1): 659–672.

Knight, P. T. 2001. A Briefing on Key Concepts: Formative and Summative, Criterion and Norm-Referenced Assessment. York: Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Generic Centre.

Marriott, P. and A. Lau. 2008. “The Use of On-Line Summative Assessment in an Undergraduate Financial Accounting Course.” Journal of Accounting Education 26(2): 73–90.

Murphy, D. P. and K. G. Stanga. 1994. “The Effects of Frequent Testing in an Income Tax Course: An Experiment.” Accounting Education: An International Journal 6(2): 279–91.

Nicol, D. J. and D. Macfarlane-Dick. 2006. “Formative Assessment and Self-Regulated Learning: A Model and Seven Principles of Good Feedback.” Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 199–218.

Qadir, J., A.-E. M. Taha, Y. K. Lim, A. Al-Faqaha, M. Imran, J. Ponciano, and S. Hussain. 2020. “Leveraging the Force of Formative Assessment & Feedback for Effective Engineering Education.” https://edarxiv.org/a4d5q.

Ramsden, P. 1992. Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge.

Rowntree, D. 1985. Developing Courses for Students. London: McGraw-Hill.

Scriven, M. 1967. “The Methodology of Evaluation.” In Perspectives of Curriculum Evaluation, ed. R. W. Tyler, R. M. Gagné, and M. Scriven, Vol. 1, 39–83. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Trotter, E. 2006. “Student Perceptions of Continuous Summative Assessment.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 31(5): 505–521.

Velan, G. M., P. Jones, H. P. McNeil, and R. K. Kumar. 2008. “Integrated Online Formative Assessments in the Biomedical Sciences for Medical Students: Benefits for Learning.” BMC Medical Education 8: 1–11.

Wiggins, G. P. 1998. Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wiliam, D. 2006. “Formative Assessment: Getting the Focus Right.” Educational Assessment 11(3–4): 283–289.

How to Cite
Ontong, J. M. 2021. “Low-Stakes Assessments: An Effective Tool to Improve Marks in Higher-Stakes Summative Assessments? Evidence from Commerce Students at a South African University”. South African Journal of Higher Education 35 (5), 234-55. https://doi.org/10.20853/35-5-4140.
General Articles