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  1. Abstract While formative assessments (FAs) can facilitate learning within undergraduate STEM courses, their impact likely depends on many factors, including how instructors implement them, whether students buy-in to them, and how students utilize them. FAs have many different implementation characteristics, including what kinds of questions are asked, whether questions are asked before or after covering the material in class, how feedback is provided, how students are graded, and other logistical considerations. We conducted 38 semi-structured interviews with students from eight undergraduate biology courses to explore how various implementation characteristics of in-class and out-of-class FAs can influence student perceptions and behaviors. We also interviewed course instructors to provide context for understanding student experiences. Using thematic analysis, we outlined various FA implementation characteristics, characterized the range of FA utilization behaviors reported by students, and identified emergent themes regarding the impact of certain implementation characteristics on student buy-in and utilization. Furthermore, we found that implementation characteristics have combined effects on student engagement and that students will tolerate a degree of “acceptable discomfort” with implementation features that contradict their learning preferences. These results can aid instructor reflection and guide future research on the complex connections between activity implementation and student engagement within STEM disciplines.