Classroom Assessment Techniques

Using both formative and summative assessment allows students to get a better idea of their progress in the course, allows the faculty member to gauge understanding and progress toward the course learning goals, as well as evaluate knowledge and skills.   

  • Summative assessments are traditional assignments, quizzes, and tests meant to evaluate student learning and achievement of course learning outcomes. These are usually associated with course points.  
  • Formative assessments are no- or low-stakes assignments to gauge understanding. Tools like polls during a lecture or frequent low points quizzes can provide feedback or encourage proficiency for students.  

Classroom Assessment Techniques* or CATs are a classification of simple strategies for formative assessment. CATs are “quick and easy formative check-ins to help you gauge student knowledge, skills, attitude and preparedness in real time” (CELT Iowa State University). CATs are a beneficial tool and not only inform your teaching, but help students reflect on their own learning. CATs are especially useful in large courses and can help students feel more engaged with the professor, content, and each other (Vanderbilt Center for Teaching).  

While there are many CATs (check out these 15 ideas or 50 here), here are three simple ideas you can integrate into your course. CATs are traditionally anonymous and non-graded, but you can modify any of the ideas to be associated with course credit/points to incentivize participation: 

  1. Muddiest Point: At the end of class, pose the question to your students, “What was the most unclear or confusing point of today’s lecture/activity/reading/discussion?” Have students write their answers on a sheet of paper or index cards and return them to you on their way out of the classroom. Review what students wrote, so you know what to clarify in your next class session. Check out this short video overview.  
  2. Student-Generated Test Questions: This activity can be done individually but works well in small groups – you are asking students to write sample test questions and/or predict what is going to be on a test or quiz. They also need to create an answer sheet. Check out this short video overview
  3. Quick Write: Create an open-ended prompt based on that day’s content (or content students should be integrating across course sessions). Give students 5 minutes to write. Have students return to you on their way out of the classroom. Check out this short video overview.  

* Most information about CATs comes from: Angelo, Thomas A., & Cross, K. Patricia. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Email ITL to request a copy to borrow!