Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) are quick evaluations of student learning that can be implemented in class to provide information about student learning before students are evaluated on higher stakes graded exams or assignments. CATs can allow an instructor to take an active role in students’ learning by using their feedback to immediately adjust content delivery or classroom pedagogy. CATs also provide students with an opportunity to reflect on their learning. Explaining to students why CATs are being used in the classroom will help facilitate these processes.
There are many different CATs that can be implemented by a professor in class. We highlight a few examples below, and a more complete list with detailed descriptions can be found here: https://vcsa.ucsd.edu/_files/assessment/resources/50_cats.pdf
When you are considering choosing a CAT, think about how the information the students provide will allow you and the students to examine their learning.
1. Assessing Prior Knowledge, Recall, and Understanding:
The CATs in this group assess students understanding of content and can be used before and after instruction.
Background Knowledge Probe
Why is it used? A quick evaluation of student’s understanding can reveal an appropriate place for a course or a lesson to begin. Using a knowledge quiz can also provide a baseline level of comprehension to demonstrate growth throughout the course and can help students preview the material that will be covered.
How to implement it? A short, simple questionnaire that is designed by the professor is given to students at the beginning of a course or lesson. The answers can be reviewed to identify common misconceptions or material that most students have already mastered.
Empty Outlines Guide
Why is it used? Empty outlines highlight the major topics of a course or lesson. It helps students identify key content.
How to implement it? Students are given an outline of a lecture, reading, or discussion with only the major topics and headings filled in. Students fill in the missing details during class and can use the outline to review material.
Why is it used? A professor can use a minute paper at the end of a lesson to gauge how well students absorbed and understood the content that was covered.
How to implement it? At the end of a class period, have students take out a piece of paper and give them a minute to respond to a prompt. Possible questions to ask include: What was the most meaningful thing you learned during class today? What questions do you still have about the material? What content do you want further clarification on?
2. Assessing Skill in Analysis and Critical Thinking:
The CATs in this group ask students to break down information or problems to achieve better comprehension.
Content, form and function outlines
Why is it used? An instructor can use this CAT to help students focus on the main ideas in a course or class period. Developing an outline of the what, the why, and the how, can assist students with reviewing for other course assessments.
How to implement it? At the end of a class period, ask students to reflect on the main ideas of the class. Students are asked to create an outline of the lesson that describes the main ideas-what was it, how is it addressed, and why does it matter to the course or the field of study?
Why is it used? An instructor can use this CAT to help students analyze a class concept by pointing out major ideas, with supplementary content. This allows students to reflect on any gaps in their thinking, or demonstrate their mastery of the material.
How to implement it? At the end of a class period, ask the students to write a 1-2 page analysis of the main ideas of the class, summarizing, organizing, and analyzing the key concepts.
3. Assessing Skill in Synthesis and Creative Thinking:
The CATs in this group ask the student to develop material and provide content for the faculty member to evaluate student understanding.
Why is it used? This CAT helps students visually organize content and see the connections between the concept and other course material, other courses, or prior knowledge.
How to implement it? At the end of a class period, ask students to take out a piece of paper and create a visual representation of one of the major topics from class. Instruct them to create connections between the major topic and other topics from class, material from other courses they have taken, or linked to prior knowledge they came into the course with.
Why is it used? This technique allows students to creatively connect content to other lessons, courses, or life experiences. It can create deeper connections for the student resulting in larger learning gains.
How to implement it? Students create a limited number of examples of creative work related to the course or a specific class period. They then explain how their examples relate to the course and why they created them. This CAT can take up more class time depending on how many examples the professor wants students to generate. It may be helpful to have some of the examples generated outside of class time and then shared during class. Professors can ask students to reflect on course content and create a portfolio of work with their commentary on each example.
4. Assessing Skill in Problem Solving:
The CAT in this section helps students develop problem solving skills by critically reflecting on the processes used to find solutions.
Documented problem solutions
Why is it used? Asking multiple students to explain their problem-solving process to the class, allows students to see that there is more than one way to solve complex problems.
How to implement it? During a class period, present the class with a problem. Ask students to record the steps they are using, while they are solving the problem. Later, have students share these steps in either pairs, small groups, or with the whole class.
5. Assessing Skill in Application and Performance:
The CATs in this group have students act as the professor to verify understanding.
Why is it used? Teaching others is an effective learning strategy and listening to how other students’ paraphrase main concepts can further enhance student learning.
How to implement it? Students are asked to create their own definition or explanation of a concept. Students are then asked to teach or explain the concept in their own words to classmates or a targeted audience (e.g. small children, parents, friends, someone in a different field, etc.). Classmates and the professor can then ask follow up questions to check for understanding.
Student generated test questions
Why is it used? Creating test questions gets students to think about the most important aspects of the lesson or course. It can help students consider common misconceptions and applications of the content. The test questions can then serve as a study guide for students or be used to create a test-bank for the professor. Professors can gauge whether or not students have correctly identified the key concepts when students are writing the questions, and determine what concepts students still do not understand based on their responses to their test questions.
How to implement it? Students are asked to create test questions, which should be designed to be taken by their classmates. Students should be prompted to represent all of the key concepts in their questions and develop a solution guide. The tests can then be taken by classmates and incorrect responses can be discussed.
6. Assessing Student’s Reactions, Attitudes, and Values:
The CATs in this group help professors understand students’ perceptions about various aspects of the course. Questions can be designed to target any component of the course (e.g. instructional style, activities, grading, pace, workload, etc.) or to gauge students general thoughts about the course (e.g. satisfaction, confidence, understanding, interest, etc.). It is often beneficial to keep responses anonymous to promote honesty. Research has shown that professors that make changes based on students’ feedback receive higher course evaluations and generally perceive that the professor cares about their needs and interests.
There are a variety of tools and services that instructors can utilize to gather feedback on their teaching.
Classroom opinion polls
How to implement it? Classroom opinion polls are typically short questionnaires that are formatted as either multiple choice questions or utilize a Likert scale. Classroom opinion polls can be given during class and results can be shown and utilized immediately. Yale Supports: Poll Everywhere
Electronic survey feedback
How to implement it? Surveys can be distributed electronically to students. Professors can generate their own questions or utilize standardized scales. There are many options for formatting questions including open-ended, multiple choice, and Likert scales. Many software programs automatically generate results summaries to make the feedback easier to use. Since the survey is online, class time does not have to be devoted to gathering feedback. Yale Supports: Qualtrics
Teacher designed feedback forms
How to implement it? Surveys can be distributed in class to students. This provides students more flexibility in the types of questions that can be asked, but typically requires professors to provide class time for students to complete it. Professors can generate their own questions or utilize standardized scales.
Midterm student course evaluations
How to implement it? In a midterm course evaluation (MCE), a Poorvu Center staff member observes most of a class session, and then meets with students without the professor to discuss various aspects of the class. While end-of-term evaluations are key for instructional accountability, MCEs allow professors to improve their courses midstream, and make teaching adjustments specific to the particular needs and desires of current students.
7. Assessing Learner Reactions to Class Activities, Assignments, and Materials:
The CATs in this group allow students to provide feedback on the course structure. The professor can use this information to adjust the syllabus, grading practices, or class policies.
Why is it used? It is important for the professor to know if the students understand the purpose(s) of completing an assignment. If students are focusing their efforts on non-essential tasks or stressed about evaluation criteria, it can negatively impact student learning outcomes.
How to implement it? Students respond to open-ended questions about the value of an assignment to their learning. It may be beneficial to include both broad (e.g. How would you characterize the assignments in this course to someone who is visiting it?) and specific prompts/questions (e.g. Describe how you benefited from this project. What is the main lesson you learned from completing this assignment? How could this assignment be improved?)
Why is it used? Group work and collaborative learning have many beneficial learning outcomes. However, they can also cause stress when group dynamics are not closely monitored.
How to implement it? If a professor is using group work in class, they can design a survey for students to complete asking about how their group is functioning. Questions should focus on determining how much each member is contributing, identifying any group tensions, and providing opportunities for students to make suggestions about improving the group-work process.
Angelo, T.A. and Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Technologies (Second Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers
Steadman, M., & Svinicki, M. (1998). CATs: A student’s gateway to better learning, New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 75, 13-20.
Alan P. Boyle, Dave J. Prior & Andy E. Heath (2010) Using portfolio assessment to engage Level 1 Geoscience students in their subject and to develop their learning skills, Planet, 23:1,12-15, DOI: 10.11120/plan.2010.00230012
Goldstein, G.S. (2007). Using classroom assessment techniques in an introductory statistics class, College Teaching, 55, 2,77-82.
Cohen, P. A. (1980). Effectiveness of student-rating feedback for improving college instruction: A meta-analysis of findings. Research in Higher Education, 13, 321-341.
Levinson-Rose, J., & Menges, R. J. (1981). Improving College Teaching: A Critical Review of Research. Review of Educational Research, 51(3), 403–434.
Marsh, H.W. & Roche, L. (1993). The use of students’ evaluations and an individually structured intervention to enhance university teaching effectiveness. American Educational Research Journal, 30(1), 217-251.
Overall, J. U. (1979). Midterm feedback from students: Its relationship to instructional improvement and students’ cognitive and affective outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 71(6), 856-865.