Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are simple, non-graded, in-class activities designed to give you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it’s happening. CATs can be as simple as asking for a show of hands on a particular question during class or as complex as creating a survey to solicit student feedback on a textbook or other learning materials.

Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross made popular the term “Classroom Assessment Techniques” (CATs) with their Handbook for College Teachers in 1993, available for check-out from the CNDLS library in 314 Car Barn. CNDLS offers assistance with a few of the more time-intensive techniques, such as videotaped think-alouds and mid-semester group feedback sessions. However, there are many simple techniques that faculty members can implement in a single class session.

The chart below provides some examples of CATs and when to use them. (Most of the following chart is adapted from K. Patricia Cross and Thomas A. Angelo, Classroom Assessment Techniques, SF: Jossey-Bass, 1993.)

What about student learning are you trying to assess? Possible techniques to use
Students’ level of pre-existing knowledge in the area Prior Knowledge Survey
Students complete a short, simple questionnaire that determines what students already know about a subject or concept. 

  • Helps the faculty member select the appropriate starting place or level of instruction. Useful at the beginning of a course, a unit, or an important new topic.
Concepts that are most difficult for students to learn Muddiest Point Technique
Either orally or in writing, students explain which concepts are most difficult to understand and why.

  • Useful for ascertaining which fundamental course or curricular concepts need the most attention
Students’ ability to apply essential concepts or skills to new situations Application Cards
After exposure to a new concept, students write about one possible application of the concept.

  • Useful for measuring students’ strategic thinking abilities and their ability to transfer learned skills to new contexts
Students’ ability to restate complex information succinctly The One-Sentence Summary
Given a topic, students answer the question “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” in a single sentence.

  • Useful for determining how well students have understood and synthesized new information
Students’ ability to see a complex issue from multiple perspectives Pro and Con Grid
Students make lists of the pros and cons of a particular argument, action, policy approach, experimental paradigm, etc.

  • Helps students to go beyond their initial reactions and to search for at least two sides to the issue in question.
  • This assessment works particularly well in humanities, social sciences, or public policy courses where questions of value are being examined.
Students’ ability to communicate learning to others Directed Paraphrasing
The instructor asks the students to paraphrase an important concept in two or three sentences for a specific audience.

  • Useful for appraising students’ understanding of topics or concepts they will later be expected to communicate to the public


Students’ ability to distinguish major points and to assess for gaps in their learning The Minute Paper
At the close of a lesson or assignment, students respond to the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important questions remain unanswered?”

  • Useful for encouraging students to raise questions and think holistically about a topic
  • Can be easily adapted to different learning settings (lecture, lab session, exam, video, etc.)
Students’ ability to connect concepts in the course and field Concept Maps
Students complete drawings or diagrams showing the mental connections they’re making between certain concepts. 

  • If students are asked to draw concept maps at the beginning and end of the course, the maps may illustrate whether students gained a more sophisticated understanding of the issues surrounding a particular concept.


For larger-scale projects…
Student learning or attitudes toward learning within courses or across courses of study Focus groups, small-group diagnostics, student interviews, surveys

  • Depending on the design of the questionnaire or discussion prompts, can measure student learning of particular concepts or student attitudes toward learning in courses or across courses of study

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