Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Using Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are a set of specific activities that instructors can use to quickly gauge students’ comprehension. They are generally used to assess students’ understanding of material in the current course, but with minor modifications they can also be used to gauge students’ knowledge coming into a course or program.

CATs are meant to provide immediate feedback about the entire class’s level of understanding, not individual students’. The instructor can use this feedback to inform instruction, such as speeding up or slowing the pace of a lecture or explicitly addressing areas of confusion.

Asking Appropriate Questions in CATs

Examples of appropriate questions you can ask in the CAT format:

  • How familiar are students with important names, events, and places in history that they will need to know as background in order to understand the lectures and readings (e.g. in anthropology, literature, political science)?
  • How are students applying knowledge and skills learned in this class to their own lives (e.g. psychology, sociology)?
  • To what extent are students aware of the steps they go through in solving problems and how well can they explain their problem-solving steps (e.g. mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering)?
  • How and how well are students using a learning approach that is new to them (e.g., cooperative groups) to master the concepts and principles in this course?

Using Specific Types of CATs

Minute Paper

Pose one to two questions in which students identify the most significant things they have learned from a given lecture, discussion, or assignment. Give students one to two minutes to write a response on an index card or paper. Collect their responses and look them over quickly. Their answers can help you to determine if they are successfully identifying what you view as most important.

Muddiest Point

This is similar to the Minute Paper but focuses on areas of confusion. Ask your students, “What was the muddiest point in… (today’s lecture, the reading, the homework)?” Give them one to two minutes to write and collect their responses.

Problem Recognition Tasks

Identify a set of problems that can be solved most effectively by only one of a few methods that you are teaching in the class. Ask students to identify by name which methods best fit which problems without actually solving the problems. This task works best when only one method can be used for each problem.

Documented Problem Solutions

Choose one to three problems and ask students to write down all of the steps they would take in solving them with an explanation of each step. Consider using this method as an assessment of problem-solving skills at the beginning of the course or as a regular part of the assigned homework.

Directed Paraphrasing

Select an important theory, concept, or argument that students have studied in some depth and identify a real audience to whom your students should be able to explain this material in their own words (e.g., a grants review board, a city council member, a vice president making a related decision). Provide guidelines about the length and purpose of the paraphrased explanation.

Applications Cards

Identify a concept or principle your students are studying and ask students to come up with one to three applications of the principle from everyday experience, current news events, or their knowledge of particular organizations or systems discussed in the course.

Student-Generated Test Questions

A week or two prior to an exam, begin to write general guidelines about the kinds of questions you plan to ask on the exam. Share those guidelines with your students and ask them to write and answer one to two questions like those they expect to see on the exam.

Classroom Opinion Polls

When you believe that your students may have pre-existing opinions about course-related issues, construct a very short two- to four-item questionnaire to help uncover students’ opinions.

Creating and Implementing CATs

You can create your own CATs to meet the specific needs of your course and students. Below are some strategies that you can use to do this.

  • Identify a specific “assessable” question where the students’ responses will influence your teaching and provide feedback to aid their learning.
  • Complete the assessment task yourself (or ask a colleague to do it) to be sure that it is doable in the time you will allot for it.
  • Plan how you will analyze students’ responses, such as grouping them into the categories “good understanding,” “some misunderstanding,” or “significant misunderstanding.”
  • After using a CAT, communicate the results to the students so that they know you learned from the assessment and so that they can identify specific difficulties of their own.

From Angelo, Thomas A., & Cross, K. Patricia. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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