This paper summarises the key findings of recent educational research undertaken at HeriotWatt University, Edinburgh, which was supported by the UK Centre for Education in the Built Environment. The research critically analyses dilemmas between educational effectiveness and resource efficiency when considering formative assessment. Formative assessment is defined as ‘work that a student carries out during a course for which they get feedback to improve their learning, whether marked or not’. The key aim of the research is to identify and share good practice, and show the wide range of feedback options possible. A range of staff within the School of the Built Environment reflected on their own experience through the use of templates and various seminars. The research findings highlight the crucial importance of assessment generally, and formative assessment in particular, on student learning in higher education. Research pressures, larger classes and more distance learning are all challenges that make the balancing act between resource efficiency and educational effectiveness increasingly precarious. This research has not unearthed any magic solutions, but identifies practical principles and examples of how others deal with these dilemmas.