Classroom Assessment Techniques

​What are Classroom Assessment Techniques?

Classroom Assessment Techniques, also known as CATs, are activities that can help instructors monitor and gauge how students are learning in their courses.  CATs can focus on different aspects of the learning process by focusing on students’ acquisition of course knowledge, how students are perceiving their own learning, and/or the effectiveness of the instructor’s teaching methods. Different ways to use CATs in your course will be described in greater detail below.

There are a number of characteristics of Classroom Assessment Techniques that help to describe their purpose, benefit, and utility, proposed by Angelo and Cross (1993).  The process of incorporating CATs into the classroom is part of a learner-centered methodology; the focus of these activities are to help improve the students’ learning rather than focusing on just the behaviors of the instructor.  However, the instructor is an active component of the successful implementation of CATs and needs to use their discretion and judgement about how CATs can be used in their course, what they are interested in assessing, and how they can use the information to improve student learning.  The combination of helping both the students and instructor assess learning and comprehension in the course creates a mutually beneficial situation that helps to facilitate a constructive learning environment with the constant giving of and responding to feedback.

To be most effective, CATs should be used in a context-specific way so that they are addressing an aspect of the course that the instructor is interested in.  As the instructor is identifying the things that they want their students to learn from the course, CATs can be a useful way to determine, prior to an exam, whether the students are learning the material.  However, to assess how well the students are learning the course material or a specific skill, the CATs should be modified and directed in ways that specifically address the areas of content in which the instructor is most interested in monitoring.  A single CAT cannot address all goals for the course.  That is why to be most effective, CATs should be narrowly focused on the area/topic/question of interest.

Additionally, CATs should be used in a formative way to help improve student learning, rather than evaluating the quality of their learning (i.e. grading).  To this end, CATs should be used in an ongoing manner.  CATs are often ungraded activities that are used to help the students check their learning and the instructor to assess how students have learned prior to other forms of, often summative or graded, assessment.  CATs may also be anonymous to ensure that the students can be focused on the process of learning and not the graded result.

CATs are a way to continuously monitor student learning throughout a course and give the students quick feedback about their learning.  To help students make the most of the assessment process, it is necessary for the instructor to come back to the students regularly with the results of these assessment activities.  After assessing how students are learning with a CAT, it is necessary to relay that information back to the students to close the feedback loop.  Closing the feedback loop has the added benefit of demonstrating the value of these activities to the students, providing them with the formative feedback that can help them in the learning process, and enhance the communication channels between the instructor and the students.  For these reasons, the regular use of CATs in your classroom is a component of good teaching (Angelo and Cross, 1993).

Another component of good teaching, is using assessment in other ways in your course to monitor the overall success of your students.  Course-based assessment, uses the same type of process as CATs but applies it to your entire course rather than just an activity or component of it.  

How to use CATs in your Courses

CATs can be used to assess a variety of things in your course.  However, CATs are commonly used to gather feedback on the following three main topics.

  • Course knowledge and student skills – CATs can be used to help monitor and improve students’ learning throughout the course. Students tend to concentrate on activities that will be graded; however, oftentimes the feedback from those graded opportunities may be returned too late in the term to help facilitate student learning.  For instance, students often find out they haven’t learned something as well as they think when they receive their graded exams back.  At this point, it is too late for the students to truly learn the material and demonstrate that knowledge in another assessment opportunity.  CATs can be used throughout the term to help monitor student learning so that topics can be readdressed prior to final, and graded, assessment opportunities.  CATs can be used to look at various levels of student learning – such as activities that encourage students to recall, analyze, problem solve, apply, etc. course content.
  • Learner attitudes and student metacognition – students should be involved in the process of their own learning; however active engagement in their learning requires the students to be self-aware and self-directed. CATs can be a useful way to guide students in the process of metacognition by helping them and asking them to assess their values, behaviors, and awareness as learners throughout the course.
  • Teaching strategies and materials – students can offer valuable feedback on teaching-related and course-related topics such as feedback on the teacher, their methods of instruction, and the course assignments and materials. Since CATs can be a quick way to gather ongoing feedback, they can be useful to assess the effectiveness of the instructor and how they teach.  However, these critiques are most useful when they are designed to provide feedback on those areas that are most useful/acceptable to the instructor.  For example, an instructor may wish to gather feedback on how a newly designed activity worked in a class period or on the quality of the readings to prepare students for a discussion.

How to get Started with CATs

The time and effort necessary to develop and implement a CAT can vary depending on the CAT used.  When starting to integrate CATs into your course, it is recommended to start with CATs that don’t require a great deal of time and that are relatively simple to implement (for examples, check out our Examples of CATs page below).  It can also be beneficial to start using CATs in a course that you are familiar with as an instructor, a course that is going smoothly, and a course that students are doing well in.  While these things are not necessary when initially using CATs, they can help facilitate the integration process and provide the instructor with an opportunity to develop confidence and experience with using CATs in their classroom.

Angelo and Cross (1993) identified three steps when using any CAT in your classroom:

  • Planning for the CAT – after you have picked a course where you will try out CATs, pick a day where you will try using a CAT. Make sure that you reserve enough class time for the CAT.  It is recommended to use one of the quick CATs (see Minute Paper, Muddiest Point, and One-Sentence Summary below) as you are gaining familiarity with how to use CATs.  These CATs are also very adaptable and flexible to use and can be modified to fit the course content for that day.  Determine what you want to assess, choose a CAT that would be appropriate to assess that topic, and then figure out how to introduce it, frame it, and present it to your students.  Some of the more involved CATs may also require materials and other things to be prepared in advance.  If that is the case, make sure you have the supplies that you need prior to the day that you will use the CAT.
  • Implementing the CAT – It is important to let your students know beforehand that you will be using some type of CAT, what the purpose of the activity is, and to be clear about the purpose of the CAT. CATs are typically used to assess the students’ learning to assist them in the course, and not to serve as a graded assignment.  Students may be more engaged in the activity when they can see the potential benefit to them.  Therefore, remind the students that the activities are about assessing how they are learning the material and that you will be coming back to them to help address any problem areas.  It is also important to make sure that the students understand the procedure for the CAT, so that they are not confused about the time that will be allotted, the procedure that they will need to follow, the end result, etc.  After you have completed the CAT, you will need to collect the responses and review them.  Ideally, the results will be reviewed immediately after the CAT has been completed so that the feedback can be returned to the students as soon as possible.
  • Responding to the CAT – After the CAT has been completed and you have reviewed the results, it is important to close the feedback loop for the students. Reviewing the results of the CATs shows the students that you are using the information they are providing to help them learn the material and improve in the course.  Helpful things to address include what you learned from their responses (i.e. are their common misconceptions about the material, additional applications of a concept, new examples to discuss, etc.), if you have decided to make any changes to the course or the content based on the results, if the results have suggested new tips or strategies to help the students in the course, and whether there will be any other follow-up for the activities they completed. 

Common Problems when Using CATs

CATs can be a helpful way to continuously monitoring the learning of your students.  In the above sections, advice has been offered about using them most effectively.  However, there are a few common problems that should be reiterated so they can be avoided.  Common problems include:

  • Not explaining the purpose of a CAT – students need to understand what they are doing and why it is a good and effective use of their time. Without explaining the purpose and why it is a helpful process, students may consider it to be a non-valuable use of their class time.
  • Using only a single type of CAT in your course – there are a huge variety of CATs that can be used in your classroom. Using different types of CATs can help assess different aspects of learning and the course.  Also, using a variety of CATs can keep students engaged in the process.  For examples of commonly used CATs, see below.
  • Only using a CAT once in your course – CATs are most effective when they are used on an ongoing basis to continuously monitor student learning. Making CATs a regular process of your course can help familiarize your students with the process and help them in the process of monitoring their learning.
  • Not feeling empowered to modify the CAT to the needs of your course/students – CATs are meant to be flexible. If the CAT is not assessing the aspect of learning or the course that you are most interested in assessing, it is not going to be as useful as it could be.  Feel free to modify pre-existing CATs in creative ways to fit your course and the course content.
  • Not helping students to see how the data are being used by you or how it can be used by them to help improve their learning, and therefore, their overall performance in the course.
  • Not closing the feedback loop – To be most effective, students need to benefit from the feedback that they have provided; this keeps them involved in the process. If students don’t see the benefits of their time spent participating in various CATs, it can make them less willing to participate in these activities in the future.
  • Over complicating the process of data collection and/or summarization of the results.​ 

Additional Resources

Mihram, D. (n.a.). Classroom assessment techniques. University of Southern California Center for Excellence in Teaching.

Angelo, T. A.  (1998).  Classroom Assessment and Research: Uses, Approaches, and Research Findings San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Angelo, T. A. and K. P. Cross. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Earl, L. M.  (2003).  Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Other CAT Resources

Enerson, D. M., K. M. Plank, and R. N. Johnson.  (2007).  An Introduction to Classroom Assessment Techniques.  Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Penn State.

CAT Ideas from the Field Tested Learning Assessment Guide for STEM Instructors

Example Classroom Assessment Techniques from Iowa State's Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching