Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)


Most instructors have learned quick and easy exercises to do in class, without realizing that their activity belongs to a large family of tools specifically designed to give them a continuous update on student learning. When used effectively, Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) ensure high quality learning by also providing feedback and direction for learning improvement when necessary.

What is Classroom Assessment?

According to Angelo & Cross in Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, “Classroom Assessment is an approach designed to help teachers find out what students are learning in the classroom and how well they are learning it. This approach is learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, ongoing, and firmly rooted in good practice” (Kindle Locations 296-298).

What are Classroom Assessment Techniques?

“CATs are “feedback devices,” instruments that faculty can use to find out how much, how well, and even how students are learning what they are trying to teach” (Angelo & Cross, Kindle Location 675). These simple tools are formative assessments and provide both instructors and students with systematic, focused, and useful information on learning. However, they are not meant to take the place of more formal evaluation strategies.  

Key Components

    1. Learner-Centered: Primary focus on improving learning rather than teaching.
    2. Teacher-Directed: As CATs measure the learning in their classroom, the individual teacher controls all aspects of the assessment, including whether to share the results.
    3. Mutually Beneficial: Students strengthen their skills during their participation in the assessments, and while instructors can improve their skills and gain new insights.
    4. Formative: Almost never graded and encouraged to be anonymous when possible.
    5. Context-Specific: CATs must respond to the particular needs of the class, community, instructor, and discipline. Not every CAT will work in every class.
    6. Ongoing: Regularly building CATs into the curriculum creates a “feedback loop” which can greatly increase effective and efficient learning.
    7. Rooted in Good Teaching Practice: CATs create a way for instructors to systematically apply feedback into their existing good teaching practice for more effective results.


There are many examples of successful CAT exercises available within Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers and across the internet. Listed here is a small sampling with suggested disciplines. As stated above, CATs need to be context-specific, and every classroom is different. Do not feel limited or required to use techniques associated with particular disciplines. We have arranged them this way for illustration purposes only.

Common and Flexible CATs for any subject:

The Minute Paper

  • Directions: At the end of class, ask student to spend 1-minute responding to “What is the most important thing you learned this class?” and/or “What important question remains unanswered?” and turn in responses on their way out.
  • Student benefit: With instructor feedback, students clarify main points from details and also ensure any lingering questions are brought up.
  • Instructor benefit: Quick feedback on student learning to determine if course adjustments need to be made.

The Muddiest Point

  • Directions: Ask students to submit a response to “What was the muddiest point in _____?” Can be applied to almost anything.
  • Student benefit: Must identify and articulate what they are having trouble understanding.
  • Instructor benefit: Illuminates what students are having difficulty learning to guide future teaching decisions.

The One-Sentence Summary

  • Directions: Ask students to synthesize the lesson and submit a 1-sentence response to “Who does what to whom, when, where, how and why?” about a given topic.
  • Student benefit: Practice chunking material for easier recall.
  • Instructor benefit: Scan and compare responses quickly with specific format.


Focused Listing

  • Directions: Ask students to list several ideas that are closely related to a “focus point”: important term, name or concept from the lesson.
  • Student benefit: Learn to focus their attention and improve recall.
  • Instructor benefit: Determine how well students can describe the “focus point” or illustrate a web of concepts.


Directed Paraphrasing

  • Directions: Ask students to paraphrase an important theory, topic, or concept for 2 or more separate audiences they may encounter in the future.
  • Student benefit: Practice communicating difficult or complex information for specific audiences, such as future clients.
  • Instructor benefit: Assess student understanding and synthesis of material, and how it may relate to the assigned audience.


Application Cards

  • Directions: On a note card, ask students to write down one real-world application of what they have just learned and turn it in.
  • Student benefit: Brainstorm possible applications and encourages connections between new material and prior knowledge. As demonstrates material’s relevance.
  • Instructor benefit: Quickly check student understanding and synthesis of material.


Chain Notes

  • Directions: Write a question about the class on an envelope, such as “What am I paying attention to?” or “What am I learning right now?” and pass to class. When the envelope arrives at the student, they should quickly write an answer on a note card, insert their card into the envelope, and then pass it on.
  • Student benefit: Requires students to recognize their behavior in class.
  • Instructor benefit: Measure students’ level of engagement.


Misconception/Preconception Check

  • Directions: Create and administer a simple questionnaire that sheds light on the most troublesome ideas and beliefs students bring to your course. Short answer, Likert-scale and multiple choice are useful formats, while anonymity is key.
  • Student benefit: Recognize and understand misconceptions/preconceptions in order to remove them as a barrier to learning much faster.
  • Instructor benefit: Identify and uncover incorrect/incomplete knowledge and attitudes that could be barriers to learning.


RSQC2 (Recall, Summarize, Question, Connect, and Comment)

  • Directions: At the beginning of class, ask students to go through the RSQC2 about the previous course meeting. Recall: List main points. Summarize: Capture essence of previous class in one sentence summary. Question: One or two unanswered questions they have. Connect: One or two sentences connecting previous class material with material from earlier and/or course goals. Comment: One evaluation comment about previous class.
  • Student benefit: Provides comprehensive format for reviewing class sessions and studying.
  • Instructor benefit: Test the recall and comprehension of students from the last lesson and also grasp what questions students still have.


What’s the principal?

  • Directions: Create a simple matching form with the principles identified by name and an example or problem that illustrates the principal. Be sure the principal has already been covered in class.
  • Student benefit: Recognize problem families that can be solved with a specific principal, rather than reviewing and solving each problem individually.
  • Instructor benefit: Check if students understand how to apply principles.

Best Practices

  1. If new to CATs, start small by selecting just one CAT to integrate into a course which is currently successful.
  2. Always make sure students clearly understand the CAT’s directions before starting.  
  3. When analyzing the results, be sure to include what exactly the students were responding to. A quick read through done immediately following the exercise may help you remember for later.
  4. Inform the students of the results of the CAT exercise and:
    • What adjustments will be made to the course or lesson by the instructor
    • Any strategies or adjustments that can be utilized when learning and reviewing the material moving forward by the students
  5. Try all CATs on yourself before you introduce them to your class to test instructions and if the goal of the CAT is being met by your responses.
  6. If a CAT doesn’t seem to fit your course, or isn’t providing you with useful information, then don’t use it.
  7. Many CATs benefit from repeated use. Students can come to expect and quickly complete a CAT that is presented at the beginning of every class, as an example; while the instructor can immediately apply the results.


Angelo, Thomas A.; Cross, K. Patricia (2009-10-19). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. Wiley.

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