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Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) provide in-the-moment feedback for students and instructors, from which both parties can make adjustments to improve learning.

CATs, a type of formative assessment, are almost always ungraded and anonymous and can be distinguished from other forms of assessment in these ways:

Characteristic of CATsValue For InstructorsValue For Students
PurposeGain a snapshot of learning/experience at the whole-class level for adjustments to teaching including pacing and focus.Pause to reflect on learning and provide anonymous feedback to instructor, increasing metacognitive abilities and course improvement.
No (Low) StakesRequires minimal investment of time and effort to design and implement.Allows for a low-stress way to self-assess progress and express points of confusion/questions.
Student-Instructor RelationshipIndicates an ethic of care and a willingness to be responsive to student feedback.Increases a sense of the learning community and the value of communicating with instructors.
How can Classroom Assessment Techniques enhance the classroom?

Angelo & Cross (1993) wrote the book on CATs titled Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. They developed 50 CATs designed to assess three elements of the learning experience:

  1. Course-Related Knowledge and Skills
  2. Learning Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness
  3. Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction

Here are just a few examples of reasons you might implement a CAT:

  • At the beginning of the semester, you want to have a clearer picture of your students’ confidence and prior experiences with writing a research paper (Course-Related Skills).
  • You just completed a mini-lecture on a complex topic and you want immediate feedback about points of confusion and clarity (Course-Related Knowledge).
  • You are curious how students are reacting to a service learning project (Learning Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness).
  • You are trying out a new approach to grading and want to understand what students like and dislike about it at mid-semester (Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction).
  • You’ve asked students to try a new approach to note-taking and you’re interested to learn how effective they found it to be (Course-Related Knowledge if you ask about their comprehension of the reading; Learning Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness if you ask about how this note-taking
    technique compares with other ones they’ve tried ; OR Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction if you ask about how clear the directions were for implementing the note-taking technique).
CATs to Assess Course Related Knowledge and Skills

CAT NameCAT DescriptionCAT Prompt
Muddiest PointStudents reflect, typically in writing, on a single concept that is challenging them. Instructor sorts and collates responses to provide additional learning opportunities (resources, class time, activities, etc.).“What was the most unclear or confusing point in the (lecture, homework, discussion, text, activity, film, etc.) and what would help you gain clarity?”
3-2-1Students reflect on the breadth of their understanding along with their outstanding questions.“Document 3 things you learned from the (lecture, homework, discussion, text, activity, film, etc.), 2 things that you found particularly interesting, and 1 question you still have.”
Approximate AnalogiesStudents relate concepts, mimicking the relationship between two concepts that the instructor provides.“A is to B as ____ is to ____.”
[replace A and B with facts or concepts from your course and ask them to come up with a related pair]
What’s the Principle?Students apply principles or theories to example cases.“Match the most relevant principle to the specific example or problem.”
CATs to Assess Learning Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness
CAT NameCAT DescriptionCAT Prompt
Goal Ranking and MatchingStudents articulate and rank their goals. The instructor categorizes and compares student goals with course/instructor goals. The instructor chooses how to respond (from adapting to student goals to recommending outside ways to fulfill goals not addressed in the course).“Make a list of 3-5 specific personal learning goals for this course. Now rank them (with 1 being the most important) in order of importance for your life. Now rank them in order of difficulty to achieve (with 1 being the most difficult).
Punctuated LecturesDuring a lecture, lecturette, or demonstration, students are given time to pause and notice qualities such as their attention, their engagement, their listening, their concentration, and their processing of information.Step 1: After about 10 minutes of presenting (usually about complex or difficult concepts), pause and say:
“For 2 minutes, ponder these questions” (display them to the class):• How well were you concentrating during this presentation?
• How successful were you in recording meaningful information?
• What did you do to make connections between this new information and what you already know?
• What do you expect to come next and why?Step 2: “Now, for 2 minutes, write down the most important ideas about how you are processing the presentation, how well your strategies are working, and/or what you’d like to do to deepen your concentration or processing.”Step 3: Repeat the pause and guided reflection after 10-20 more minutes.
CATS to Assess Learner Reactions to Instruction
CAT NameCAT DescriptionCAT Prompt
Chain NotesStudents are each given a notecard. A large envelope circulates around class. When each student receives the envelope, the write on their notecard in response to a given prompt. In a large class, it may take 30 or more minutes for the envelope to be passed to every student, thus providing a snapshot into a range of experiences over time in a single class; students are prompted to pay attention to their learning.“When you receive the envelope, in less than a minute, write down what you are noticing about your own learning that occurred in the previous minute.”
“When you receive the envelope, in less than a minute, write down exactly what you were doing in the previous minute.”
“When you receive the envelope, in less than a minute, write down exactly what you were thinking in the previous minute.”
Reading Rating SheetsStudents consider how effectively they engaged with reading content and provide feedback to instructors about their clarity of understanding, interest, and recommendations for future use.The prompts you use should be relevant to your class and purpose of inquiry, but could include:
• How carefully and/or completely did you read this assignment?*
• How useful was this reading assignment in helping you understand the topic and why?*
• How interesting was the reading to you and why?*
• What did you learn from the reading that you want to make sure to remember?
• Would you recommend I use this reading in future classes?* Why or why not?*for a large class, consider a Likert scale
How can you implement Classroom Assessment Techniques?

We do recommend using the Angelo & Cross book for reference, as each CAT includes examples, procedure, recommendations for using the data, ideas for adaptation, and more.

While some teaching interventions are more easily done in small classes, CATs can be used in any size course, with or without the aid of technology. In large classes, digital polls (such as in Zoom) can be a great way to quickly and efficiently gather feedback from the entire group of students. In smaller classes, sticky notes or scraps of paper can work well.

CATs are also an effective way of engaging students in online or hybrid classes. They can be embedded in discussion forums or utilize a whiteboard app (such as Padlet).

The repeated use of CATs that ask students to make connections between their thinking and the course materials has shown to increase student engagement and success, so consider making the use of CATs a regular part of your pedagogical practice.

No matter your method of implementation, it can help to make a plan for using a CAT. These implementation steps were written to be used by those with all levels of experience teaching.

Before Class

  1. Consider the course or lesson Learning Objectives and what you’d like to know from your students about their progress.
  2. Identify a common question you would like to ask your students (consider these categories: Course-Related Knowledge & Skills; Learning Attitudes, Values, & Self-Awareness; or Learner Reactions to Instruction).
  3. Identify one CAT that would effectively help answer your question, aligned with your Learning Objective(s). Use the Angelo & Cross book to guide your decision.
  4. Write a lesson plan for implementing the CAT with the following components:
    • Detailed facilitation notes for yourself (including how much time it will take to provide instructions, complete the CAT, etc.; a list of materials needed to facilitate the CAT; anticipated questions/issues/barriers)
    • Instructions for the students who will be completing the CAT including a clear statement of purpose for using the CAT
    • A plan for how you might analyze expected data

After Class

  1. Why did the students respond the way that they did?
  2. Answer one or more of these questions, with evidence from the students’ submissions to support their answer:
    • How many students are learning well and how many are not?
    • What do successful learners do that other learners don’t do, or don’t do well?
    • What do less successful students do that might account for their challenges?
    • How much of the course content are students learning?
    • Which elements of the course content are students learning?
    • How well are students learning the various elements of the course content?
    • How well are students integrating the various elements of the course content?
    • How does my teaching affect student learning, positively and negatively?
    • What, specifically, could I change about my teaching to improve learning inside the classroom?
    • What specifically could I change about my teaching to improve learning outside the classroom?
  3. How will you respond to the CAT, and how will you let your students know that you are being responsive to their feedback?
Where can I learn more?

Schedule a consultation with us in the CTLI – we are happy to be a sounding board or provide pedagogical or logistical guidance.

For practical guidance, read:

Angelo, T., and Cross, K. P. (1993.) Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass. [print book]
Note – the publisher has not made this text available as an ebook. The VSCS library has several copies. You can also view it on the Internet Archive; it’s only available to one person at a time, but is a useful preview.

Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2020). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass. [ebook]
Note – Barkley & Major extended the work of Angelo & Cross, drafting 50 student engagement techniques (SETs) in their book Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, some of which can be considered CATs and some of which are more in-depth learning activities.

Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring. (n.d.). Instructional Resources Knowledge Base: Active Learning. Division for Teaching & Learning, University of Wisconsin.
Note – this Knowledge Base includes many active learning strategies, including several CATs.

For a deeper investigation of CATs, read:

Carroll, K. A., & Harris, C. M. (2021). Using a repetitive instructional intervention to improve students’ higher-order thinking skills. College Teaching, 69(2), 82-90.

Hanson, J., & Florestano, M. (2020). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Critical Component for Effective Instruction. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2020(164), 49-56.

He, Y. (2020). Constructive error climate: A classroom assessment technique in science classes. Journal of College Science Teaching, 49(4), 37-40.

Olubummo, C. (2015). Classroom assessment techniques. Nursing Management, 46(12), 16-19.

Simpson-Beck, V. (2011). Assessing classroom assessment techniques. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12(2), 125-132.