Abstract Formative assessment (FA) provides instructors and students with feedback to improve learning. Across a variety of education settings FA is one of the most effective classroom interventions for improving student learning outcomes. Yet the accounting education literature is almost devoid of any work related to FA. One barrier for developing FA in accounting education is the significant background knowledge needed to implement FA successfully. The purpose of this paper is to provide some of that background. The paper includes conceptual discussion from the general education literature to explain how FA improves learning and discussion of research that has identified features that affect the efficacy of FA practice. One of these features is how instructors use FA data to adjust instruction. An empirical study illustrates that accounting educators can use FA data to inform a decision about instructional sequencing. Instructional sequencing principles have been used to develop new accounting curricula and courses, and accounting education research has used empirical data to inform an instructional sequencing decision. The current study tests, using a sample of introductory accounting students, alternate versions of two FA tasks to determine which version is better for identifying deficiencies in student learning outcomes. Results suggest that one version of each task is better for identifying deficiencies, but an adjustment to instructional sequencing may be needed to ensure efficacy of one of the tasks, depending on how the FA practice is implemented.