The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which common examinations are used as a tool for effective formative assessment practices in schools. The Department of Basic Education introduced common examinations in Mathematics Grade 11 with the aim of improving the quality of teaching and learning in schools through standardised assessments and to enhance learner performance. Yet the performance of Grade 11 learners in the mathematics common examinations, since its inception in 2015, has not improved. With reference to five selected schools, the findings in this study showed that formative assessments require an examination and assessment system that will not only adequately measure the capabilities, knowledge and skills of learners, but that will also drive a formative agenda in ensuring the mastering of skills and learner progress to ensure success in summative assessments. It is thus necessary for teachers to be able to make formative assessments more formal by specifying guidelines for where to use them and how to do them and by developing assessments suited for learners’ individual needs (Coetzee, 2012).
This study supports the main proposition of constructivism “that learning means constructing, creating, inventing and developing our knowledge…, it is about thinking and analysing and not memorising information… it focuses on in-depth-understanding, not regurgitating and repeating back” (Marlowe & Page,2005, pp. 10-11). If common examinations and past examination question papers are to be used, they need not be used to drill learners on how to answer examination questions. Indeed, these examinations should be used to empower learners on how to answer questions from different perspectives to achieve learning outcomes.