Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) are anything you do in the classroom to gather information about student learning. CATs are typically ungraded and easy to implement activities that do not take much class time. They allow you to monitor student progress, identify common pain points, and modify your teaching strategies to support student learning.
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CATs are most effective when they are systematically integrated into your instruction throughout the semester. With this approach, students can receive feedback on their learning before they engage in major assignments and tests, and you can get valuable information about your students’ learning. This in turn allows you to adapt your instruction to help students learn.
CATs are typically used in order to:
- monitor student learning,
- gather feedback on students’ attitudes towards classroom activities,
- improve students’ learning skills,
- reflect on and modifying teaching strategies,
- promote regular communication with students.
Most CATs are efficient classroom activities that do not require much class time. However, it is still important to give yourself time to prepare and to reflect on your teaching in light of the data you collect.
Be aware also that asking students to give you feedback on your teaching might change the dynamic in your classroom. For the best results, make sure that you are fully committed to modifying your teaching and to engaging students’ voices before you begin a classroom assessment project.
Planning for a CAT need not be extensive, but it is useful to identify your goals ahead of time, so that you can collect useful data from your students. One way to think about the landscape is to break it down into three possible target areas:
- Content and Knowledge Skills (show more/less)
CATs can be used to assess how well students in your course are mastering subject matter and acquiring new skills as they are learning. For example, you may want an answer to one of the following questions:
- What have my students successfully learned?
- Have my students learned what I intended for them to learn?
- In what areas are my students confused or mistaken or struggling?
Using CATs to assess content knowledge and skills will help you to:
- assess and improve student learning before major assignments are due,
- check if your students are meeting your learning objectives,
- understand how students organize and represent knowledge in your discipline.
- Attitudes, Learning Skills, and Self-Awareness (show more/less)
CATs in this target area allow you to assess how involved your students are in their learning, and what sorts of approaches they are taking in their quest for success. For example, you may want an answer to one of the following questions:
- What do my students think is valuable and/or pointless about the work they are doing in my class?
- Do my students have the skills they need to read a paper critically (or study well, use the lab equipment appropriately, create a research question, etc.)?
- Do my students know what they do and do not know?
Using CATs to assess student attitudes, learning skills, and self-awareness will give you insight into:
- how students monitor their learning,
- what learning strategies and study habits your students use,
- what attitudes your students have about a particular topic or theme.
- Responses to Teaching, Assignments, and Class Activities (show more/less)
CATs in this category will help you understand how students perceive your teaching style, assignments, and activities. This is important because our students’ perceptions and responses to our teaching choices can impact their learning either positively or negatively: positive perceptions tend to enhance student learning while negative perceptions can become barriers to learning. Questions you may be interested in asking include:
- Do students find my lectures engaging?
- How can I make my lab assignments more useful?
- Are student teams an effective way to organize peer feedback activities?
- To what extent do reading assignments help students understand the topic?
- Which test format do students prefer and why?
Using CATs to assess student responses to your teaching style, assignments, and class activities can help you assess things like the:
- clarity and pace of your lectures,
- usefulness of your handouts,
- value of your assignments.
CATs take many forms, and the possibilities are virtually endless. In each section below you will find an array of examples of CATs you might find useful for gathering information and feedback in each of our three target areas (see Step 1 above). Click through below to see a variety of examples, adapted from Angelo & Cross (1993).
CATs assessing content knowledge and skills (show/hide examples)
|CAT Description||When & Where||Analysis||
|Analytic Memos. A one- or two-page analysis of a specific issue.||Use this technique to help students prepare for graded writing assignments.||Read each memo quickly against a checklist of 3-5 items. For each memo check off “well done,” “acceptable,” and “needs work” for each item on the checklist. Add up the number of “needs work” marks in each category and decide how you will respond.||H||H||H|
|Application Cards. Students write a possible application for a concept, principle, theory, or procedure on an index card.||Encourage students to keep an “applications journal” in their class notebooks.||For each application card, determine if the example is ‘great’, ‘acceptable’, ‘marginal’, or ‘not acceptable’. Pick out a sample from each category to share and discuss with students in class.||L||L/M||L/M|
|Background Knowledge Probe. A short questionnaire administered at the beginning of a course or before a new unit to assess students’ background knowledge of the topic.||Focus your probe on specific information or concepts rather than on general knowledge.||Divide responses into 3 or 4 groups according to how much relevant background knowledge students have. You can also classify responses as “prepared” and “not prepared.”||M||L||M|
|Concept Maps. Drawings that show mental connections students make between concepts they have learned.||Use this technique at the beginning of the semester (or a new unit) to discover what preconceptions and misconceptions students have about the topic.||Analyze student maps for the concepts they included and the types of relations they identified among them. Code the data according to degree of relationship (primary or secondary) and type of relationship (set/subset, part/whole, etc.).||M||M/H||M/H|
|Defining Features Matrix. A matrix that asks students to categorize concepts according to the presence (+) or absence (-) of defining features.||Use this technique to ask students to distinguish between similar or closely related concepts.||Scan student matrices for incorrect responses and tally the answers. Look for patterns in student errors and determine how to address their misconceptions.||M||L||L|
|Documented Problem Solutions. A track of the steps students take in solving a problem.||Use this assessment to complement homework assignments.||Skim the answers, then select and compare well-documented solutions with both correct and incorrect answers. Locate the spots in the solution processes that determined correct or incorrect results. Note 3-4 main insights and share your them with students.||L||M||M/H|
|Memory Matrix. A two-dimensional diagram assessing whether students can recall course content and organize new information. Row and column labels are provided, but the cells within have to be filled in by students.||Use this technique after lectures or readings that present a large amount of information that can be categorized.||Tally the number of correct and incorrect responses for each cell. Look for differences and patterns between and among the cells to determine what students know well.||M||L||M|
|Minute Paper. A brief reflection at the end of the class in which students answer the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?”||Try using this technique at the beginning of a class session to check how much students remember from the previous class.||Tabulate the responses and note any useful comments. Then, determine how you will address student questions.||L||L||L|
|Student-Generated Test Questions. Students come up with and answer test questions.||Consider including student-generated questions in the tests.||Examine the types of questions students propose (paraphrase, summary, analysis, etc.) and the range of topics they cover. Select a few questions to discuss with students in class.||M||M/H||M/H|
|What's the Principle? A problem-solving activity that provides students with a few problems and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each problem.||Modify this technique by giving students only the examples and ask them to recall the principles.||Tally the number of correct and incorrect answers, and note patterns in wrong answers.||M||L||L|
CATs assessing attitudes, learning skills, and self-awareness (show/hide examples)
|CAT Description||When & Where||Analysis||
|Classroom Opinion Polls. A classroom poll in which students agree or disagree with a statement about course-related issues.||Use a polling software (such as iClicker or PollEverywhere) to gather students’ opinions.||Count and tally students’ responses.||L/M||L||L|
|Course-Related Self-Confidence Surveys. An instrument designed to measure students’ self-confidence in relation to a specific skill or ability.||Use this technique when students are trying to learn new and unfamiliar skills. Administer the survey first before the skill is introduced and then after they have made progress towards mastering it.||Tally student responses.||M||L||L|
|Diagnostic Learning Logs. A record of each class and/or assignment kept by a student (e.g., main points covered, points that were unclear, errors made, successful responses).||In order to manage a large amount of logs to analyze, read and assess logs from a different group of students each week.||Compare students’ logs with your impression of what students are and are not understanding, and keep a record of students’ questions and problems.||M||H||H|
|Goal-Ranking and Matching. A list of student-generated learning goals for the course that the instructor compares with his/her own learning objectives.||Use this technique as a group activity: ask each group to come up with a goal acceptable to all group members.||Look for patterns in students’ goals and categorize them accordingly. Compare those categories with your own objectives to see if they match. Then determine if you can incorporate any of the students’ goals into the course.||M||L||L/M|
|Interest / Knowledge / Skills Checklists. A teacher-generated inventory of interests and skills relevant to the course. Students rate their interest in various topics and indicate their level of skill.||For the best results, use this technique in courses with flexible syllabi. Administer the survey at the beginning, in the middle, and towards the end of the semester to learn about changes in students’ interests and skill level.||Tally responses for each item to spot the amount of very low or very high ratings. Cluster related skills and interests into related groups and graph them to represent various interests and skill levels.||M||L||L/M|
|Process Analysis. A record of the steps students take in carrying out a course assignment and a reflection on their approach to the assignment.||Use this technique in courses that require the mastery of physical procedures.||Read Process Analyses after you read and grade the assignment. When reading the analyses, look for clarity, explicitness, the number and order of steps taken, the effectiveness of each step, etc. Determine if there are patterns and/or common misunderstanding in how students approach the process.||M||H||H|
|Productive Study-Time Logs. A record students keep on how much time they spend studying for the class, when they study, and how productively they use their study time.||Use results from this technique in a whole-class discussion on studying.||Sum up totals and calculate averages for the amount of time students spend studying. Then look for trends the numbers illustrate (days of the week, or times of day when students study, when is the most productive study time).||M||M/H||H|
CATs assessing reactions to teaching, assignments, and class activities (show/hide examples)
|CAT Description||When & Where||Analysis||
|Assignment Assessment. A technique that encourages students to assess the value of an assignment.||This CAT is most effective with more experienced learners in upper-level and advanced courses.||Read through student’s responses and sort them into categories. Quantify the feedback and share a few comments with students when you discuss their feedback.||L||L||L/M|
|Chain Notes. Pass around a large envelope with a question written on it. Students write their responses on note cards and put them in the envelope when it reaches them.||Use this technique in a large class where you have little direct contact with students.||Categorize students’ responses and pay attention to patterns and trends.||L||L||L|
|Exam Evaluations. An evaluation form designed to examine what students think they are learning from exams and whether they think exams are fair and useful.||Include the Exam Evaluation within the exam itself 9as the final section) or ask students to complete the evaluation form soon after they have completed the exam.||Focus on the comments that address the fairness of the exam as a learning assessment (not the fairness of your grading). Carefully consider students’ comments and what changes you might make to the exam.||L||L/M||M|
|Group Instructional Feedback Technique. Students answer three questions related to their learning: What works? What doesn’t? What can be done to improve it?||Click here for more information about surveys and here for more information about focus groups.||Tally the most common written responses and suggestions. Give students feedback on the three most common responses to each question.||M||M||M/H|
|Reading Rating Sheets. Short assessment forms that students complete about their assigned course readings.||Use this technique when students seem to be having trouble with particular readings or are resisting them.||Tally answers to multiple choice and yes/no questions. Look for patterns in open ended comments identify 3-4 discussion points when you report results to your students.||L||L||L|
|Process Analysis. A record of the steps students take in carrying out a course assignment and a reflection on their approach to the assignment.||Use this technique in courses that require the mastery of physical procedures.||Read Process Analyses after you read and grade the assignment. When reading the analyses, look for clarity, explicitness, the number and order of steps taken, the effectiveness of each step, etc. Determine if there are patterns and/or common misunderstanding in how students approach the process.||M||L||L/M|
When implementing your CAT it is often helpful to tell your students how the information will be used as well as the benefits they may gain from the experience. Reasons for being transparent about your purposes include the following:
- it helps students take the task seriously while not becoming anxious about their ability to succeed,
- students tend to respond positively to our attempts to gather feedback from them about their experiences and learning in the course,
- telling students about your purpose helps them to see the activity as non-arbitrary,
- when students perceive that you care about their learning, their motivation to learn often increases. This, in turn, leads to increased learning and performance.
The data you collect from your students will help you spot patterns and trends in student learning, and make decisions about your teaching. Depending on your initial goals, this information can be used to determine:
- what your students have learned and how well they have learned it,
- which instructional approaches are effective and which might need adjusting, and/or
- whether your assessment tools adequately measure student learning.
One way to synthesize the data you have collected is to ask yourself specific questions about your students’ learning, your course and its content, and your own teaching. For example:
|Questions about Content||Questions about Students||Questions about Teaching|
The final step in your process is to communicate the results of your classroom assessment project to your students. This communication can be either verbally or in writing, and need not be overly formal.
Aim to include the following components in your communication to students:
- Thank them for their contribution.
- Remind them of your purpose with this CAT.
- Share with them the adjustments you will and will not make in response to the data you collected, and why.
This table provides some additional considerations for communication, depending on the basic purpose of your CAT:
|Assessing Content Knowledge and Skills||Assessing Attitudes, Learning Skills, and Self-Awareness||Assessing Reactions to Teaching, Assignments, and Class Activities|
What should I do with negative feedback?
If you solicit student feedback on your teaching style, assignments, and class activities, you might learn that your class activities do not engage students as much as you’d like, that students do not find your computer lab assignments useful, or that your lectures are confusing. Negative feedback might be difficult to accept but it can be very useful. Determine which student comments are constructive and decide what changes you are going to make in response. In class, briefly summarize student comments, acknowledge areas for improvement, and discuss what changes you will make.
What if I don’t want to make any changes?
Using classroom assessment techniques presupposes a willingness to modify your teaching. On occasion, however, you might decide that you are not going to make any changes to your instruction. In that case, explain to your students why you think it is important not to change anything. You might emphasize your learning objectives, the importance of a specific skill, or the value of an assignment. Keep in mind, however, that if you repeatedly ask for student feedback and don’t make any changes, students will likely become frustrated and lose motivation to engage in classroom assessment activities.
What if I don’t know what changes to make?
Determining exactly what changes to make on the basis of classroom assessment might be difficult and time-consuming. We will be happy to brainstorm some ideas with you. Contact us at email@example.com to schedule a consultation.
- Angelo, Thomas A. and Cross, K. Patricia. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Butler, S. M. and McMunn, N. D. (2011). A Teacher's Guide to Classroom Assessment: Understanding and Using Assessment to Improve Student Learning. Hoboken, US: Jossey-Bass.
- Steadman, Mimi. (1998). Using Classroom Assessment to Change Both Teaching and Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning 75. 23-35.