The Case for Formative Feedback

Grace WONG
NUS Business School

The author shares an overview of formative feedback, including how she has applied different types of formative feedback to her modules.

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Wong, G. K. M. (2022, August 18). The case for formative feedback. Teaching Connections.

The feedback that learners usually receive tend to be based on their performance upon completion of summative assessments such as mid-term quizzes, group projects, individual assignments as well as final exams. This summative feedback is useful for learners to know to what extent they have met the module’s learning goals, and usually in the form of a grade or mark. However, as feedback is only given after completion of the assessment, the learners’ motivation to improve and the amount of learning tends to be limited.

In contrast, formative feedback provides “the essential notion that while the project is in formation, and while corrections can be made, stakeholders are kept abreast of areas which are working as well as other areas that may require redirection” (Hargis & Cavanaugh, 2015). Formative feedback engages learners while they are in the process of learning, allowing them to constantly review and evaluate their progress. Thus, formative feedback is usually “presented as information to a learner in response to some action on the learner’s part” (Shute, 2008) with the intent to provide guidance that is timely, constructive, motivational, manageable, and outcome-specific (Narciss & Huth, 2004; Race, 2007; Irons & Elkington, 2022; Buczynski, 2009). Hence, formative feedback could be employed to increase learners’ levels of comprehension and correct their misconceptions (Shute, 2008), bridge a gap between current and desired performance levels (Locke & Latham, 1990; Song & Keller, 2001), help learners to improve and accelerate learning (Sadler, 1989, Lam, 2013), as well as facilitate the learning process by reducing the cognitive load on low-achieving students (Swelle et al., 1998; Paas et al., 2003). Table 1 lists the various types of formative feedback.


Table 1
Types of formative feedback

Basis of Categorisation

Types & Content of Formative Feedback


Individual (one-to-one)

(top-down, lecturer-led feedback)


Peer or group

(lateral feedback or team feedback)

Goal-directed and Specificity

Overall topic 

(general guidance towards a desired attainable goal) 



(specific responses to individual tasks or performance requirements)



(trigger event-based, needs-based) 


Regular or periodic 



Immediate or at the start 

(for short-run, and procedural skills) 


Delayed or at specific intervals or at the end (for transfer of learning and concept-formation tasks)


Elaborated feedback 

(complete worked examples or detailed model answers)


Simple information 

(short responses for verification, partial solutions, attribute isolation, and hints)

Communication Method

One-way interaction 

(lecture, email, worked example, model answer) 


Two-way interactions 

(face-to-face meetings or forum discussions)

Degree of Scaffolding

Directive feedback 

(clear instructions on how to improve rather than just indicate whether the work is correct or not) 


Facilitative feedback 

(guiding comments for learners to create their own comprehension, conceptualisation and revision

Sources: Knoblauch & Brannon, 1981; Moreno, 2004; Kulhavy & Stock, 1989; Bangert-Drowns et al., 1991; Pridemore & Klein, 1995; Black & Wiliam, 1998; Shute, 2008; Fisher & Ford, 1998; Ford et al., 1998; Schroth, 1992; Lam, 2013.


In Semesters 1 and 2 of AY2021/22, I experimented with a task-based formative feedback system for students taking three modules: RE1701 “Urban Land Use and Development”, RE2707 “Asset and Property Management” and RE2704 “Introduction to Real Estate Valuation”. Goal-directed lecturer-led feedback was provided intermittently for a group project in an ad-hoc event-based format, according to the pace at which the various task requirements were achieved in the project. As the formative feedback was conducted in a face-to-face meeting, the two-way communication allowed students to ask questions and obtain immediate clarification and guidance. Since the purpose of this experiment is to give students time and space to reflect on the project requirements, input their own creativity and critically analyse their performance, the formative feedback was timely and facilitative in nature, allowing students to construct their own understanding and lead their own learning.

Student feedback at the end of the semesters indicated that the formative feedback was timely, insightful, and constructive and that the guidance provided did not just spoon-feed students’ content but instead triggered their thinking, and also sharpened students’ analysis skills by encouraging them to derive the answers themselves. While the formative feedback enhanced and added value to students’ ideas, it also provided ample opportunities for them to gain a better understanding of the subject matter as well as clear their doubts during the feedback meetings.

For instance, in RE1701, the group project was a competition whereby the students had to propose an urban design or a city model suitable for a population of 50,000 Hong Kong immigrants seeking permanent residency in the UK. Students came for regular consultations with their ideas and were given formative feedback at each stage of their design/plan formulation, starting from site selection to an initial city model, and through to the final development of a master plan which took into consideration the pertinent urban planning objectives. The instructor’s formative feedback provided guidance and opportunities for students to exercise their creativity and critical thinking and allowed them to correct mistakes and address issues as the project progressed.

In terms of students’ actual performance in the group project, the formative feedback was effective in improving their levels of comprehension, thinking and application skills which were reflected in the higher quality of the work submitted as compared to earlier versions of their work. As students could see for themselves the gradual improvements they were making as a result of the formative feedback, they also became more motivated to keep learning and improving. Two key takeaways for educators and instructors are to be open to different starting points from students and to create ample opportunities for students to analyse and develop those ideas at their own pace, and according to their own capabilities.


Grace WONG is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Real Estate, NUS Business School. She has taught a wide range of core, elective and GEM modules, and was inducted into the NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Award: Honour Roll (2020-2024). She is also a Vice-Chair of the NUS Teaching Academy Executive Council, Fellow of the NUS Teaching Academy as well as member of the Teaching Excellence Council at the NUS Business School. Her teaching research publications, which focus on her pedagogical initiatives, are featured in Ideas on Teaching, CDTL Brief, CDTLink, Teaching Connections as well as in conferences for teaching and learning in higher education.

Grace can be reached at


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