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Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques, or CATs, are short, ungraded, anonymous assessments that let teachers learn about their students’ attitudes, knowledge, and reactions to instruction. Instead of being aimed at assigning grades, CATs are formative and aim to improve instruction and learning.  Many informal assessments can be administered in a short period of time, and some can be delivered online.

Why Use Them?

The goal of CATs is to improve instruction as the students are learning and create a dialogue between the students and the instructor.  CATs alert instructors to the needs of the students and allow instructors to better develop, plan, and revise instruction. Some reasons to administer CATs include:

  • Gauge what students have previously learned
  • Gain information about students’ background or experiences
  • Assess students’ current learning
  • Determine students’ feelings about a topic or method of instruction

What Are the General Procedures?

CATs are easy to develop and implement. First, you must determine what it is that you are trying to assess. Once you know this, you can develop a CAT that you are comfortable using that will uncover this information. Before administering the assessment, explain to the class why you are administering it. Once it is complete, you can review the results, decide what changes to make, and discuss your findings with the class.

Five Examples of Classroom Assessment Techniques

(Also see information on using electronic response systems (“clickers”)  Provide link

(From: Angelo, T. & P. Cross. 1993. Classroom Assessment Techniques, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.)

I. Misconception/Preconception Check

After administering the Misconception/Preconception Check, you should be able to determine the following:

  • What specific misconceptions or preconceptions do my students have about the course material that might interfere with their learning?
  • How many of the students have these misconceptions or preconceptions?
  • How deeply embedded are these “problematic” ideas or beliefs?

To develop and implement a Misconception/Preconception Check, do the following:

  • Identify some of the most troublesome common misconceptions or preconceptions students bring to your course.
  • Select a handful of the most troublesome or most likely to interfere with learning, and focus on these.
  • Create a simple questionnaire to elicit students’ ideas and beliefs in these areas.
  • Explain your rationale and announce when and how you plan to respond to their feedback.

Note: This technique is particularly useful in social and behavioral science courses that deal with controversial or sensitive issues.

II. The One Sentence Summary

After administering the Once Sentence Summary, you should be able to determine the following:

  • How concisely, completely, and creatively can students summarize a large amount of information on a given topic?

To develop and implement the One Sentence Summary, do the following:

  • Select an important topic or work that your students have recently studied in your course.
  • Be certain to give your students clear directions on the One Sentence Summary technique before you announce the topic to be summarized.
  • Working quickly, have the students answer “Who Did/Does What to Whom, When, Where, How, and Why?” in relation to that topic.
  • Next, have your students turn their answers into a sentence that follows the WDWWWWHW pattern.

Note: After analysis and content questions have been resolved, you might ask students to turn the one sentence summaries into brief three sentence essays.

This technique is a powerful tool for helping students grasp complex processes and explain them in non-technical terms.

III. The Muddiest Point

After using the Muddiest Point technique, you should be able to determine the following:

  • What do students find least clear or most confusing about a particular lesson or topic?

To develop and implement the Muddiest Point technique, do the following:

  • Determine what you want feedback on. Is it the entire class session or one self-contained segment? Is it a lecture, a discussion, or a presentation?
  • If you are using the technique in class, reserve a few minutes at the end of the class session. Be certain to allow enough time to ask the question, to allow students to respond, and to collect their responses by the usual ending time.
  • Let students know beforehand how much time they will have to respond and what use you will make of their responses.
  • Pass out index cards for students to write on.
  • Collect the responses as the students leave the classroom.
  • Respond to students’ feedback at the next class meeting.

Note: In analyzing or responding to the feedback, group or sort the responses into “piles” of related muddy points.

If students are regularly asked to identify the “muddiest point,” they tend to pay more attention to how well they understand the relevant session or assignment because they expect to be asked about it.

This technique is particularly suited to large, lower division classes.

IV. Student Generated Test Questions

After using this technique, you should be able to determine the following:

  • What do students consider the most important or memorable content?
  • What do students consider as fair and useful test questions?
  • How well can students answer the questions they themselves have posed?

To use the Student Generated Test Questions technique, do the following:

  • Focus on a test or exam that is three weeks to a month away. Decide what specific questions on what specific topics you want students to generate. Next, imagine that you are writing specifications to yourself about the kinds of questions you want. Then, write those directions down for your students. If you have already written the test questions, frame your directions so that students will write similar ones.
  • Decide how many questions you want students to generate. (One or two questions of any type are usually enough, especially if you want students to supply answers.)

Note: In introductory courses, this activity may be easier if students work in pairs or small groups.

In large classes, specific topics or units can be assigned to certain groups of students. (For example, Unit 1 would be assigned to students whose last names begin with the letters A-G.)

V. Minute Paper

After using this technique, you should be able to determine the following:

  • What do students see as the most significant things that they are learning?
  • What are students’ major questions?
  • How well are students learning what you are teaching?

To use this technique, do the following:

  • Decide what you want to focus on—a homework assignment, a reading, the students’ understanding of a lecture, etc.
  • Ask two questions: What was the most important thing you learned during this class? What questions remain unanswered?
  • Direct students toward the types of answers you want—words, phrases, short sentences.

Note: You can change the prompt to be more appropriate and specific: the most illuminating example, the most surprising information, the most disturbing idea, etc.

Let the class know that you will not be able to comment on questions submitted. However, you may try to answer three of the most commonly raised questions or points.

Instructor Comments

I was quite surprised when I asked my students to write a short paragraph about the ‘muddiest point’ of my lecture. What I believed was the concept that would give them the most difficulty wasn’t what they described at all. Rather, it was about a concept that I considered easy and just glossed over. Because of these findings, I am beginning my next lecture by going over the problem areas.

-Statistics Instructor

The best part of the CAT was the reaction from the students when I showed them the results of the survey indicating their preference for group work or lecture. The discussion following the CAT was thoughtful and provided me with insight to improve my teaching.

-Political Science Instructor

You have to be prepared for some brutally honest responses when students are encouraged to give anonymous replies. After reading the responses, it dawned on me that my organization or lack of it actually hindered students from learning. From there, I worked hard to improve my classroom skills. Without this kind of prompt, I’d probably still have them floundering.

-Philosophy Instructor

The ‘minute paper’ based on the readings was very surprising. I had no idea that students could find so many main themes.

-English Instructor