Classroom Assessment Techniques, Part 1

By Dr. Diane Chapman, Executive Director, OFD

Assessment of student learning has been a hot topic of discussion of late. There are several research-supported practices around assessment that we should all be trying to incorporate in our teaching, both online and face-to-face. One of those practices is to use authentic assessments, as discussed in a previous post. Another is the incorporation of formative assessment done frequently throughout your entire course. These types of formative assessments are often referred to as Classroom Assessment Techniques or CATs. This post and several others are a part of a series of posts on CATs.


CATs were originally envisioned as simple, non-graded, in-class activities designed to give you and your students useful feedback on the teaching-learning process as it is happening. They are based based on work from Angelo and Cross (1993). However, many instructors use CATs as graded assessments. By doing this, the instructors are using more frequent and lower stakes assessments that take the pressure off of or eliminate the need for large stakes final exams.

Why You Should Incorporate CATs

Frequent, lower-stakes assessments have many benefits including the ability to retrieve just-in time feedback on aspects of the teaching-learning process, collecting information on student learning with less effort that traditional high stakes assignments, encouraging and modeling the view that learning is an on-going inquiry process that requires experimentation and reflection, helping students become better at self-monitoring their own learning and learning strategies, helping students feel less anonymous, especially in large courses, and providing evidence to students that you care about their learning.

Steps to Using CATs

  1. Decide what you want to assess about your students’ learning from a CAT;
  2. Choose a CAT that provides this feedback in the best way, is consistent with your teaching style, and can be implemented easily in your class;
  3. Explain the purpose of the activity to students, and then conduct it;
  4. After class, analyze (review) the results, determine what they tell you about your students’ learning, and decide what changes you will make to instruction, if any;
  5. Let your students know what you learned from the CAT and how you will use this information.

Two CATs to Get You Started

I will introduce just two CATs in this post, with more to come in future posts. These two CATs can be used effectively in both large and small courses and online and face-to-face.

The Minute Paper
The purpose of the minute paper is to find out about how well students are comprehending a particular class session. It can also be used during the first few minutes of a class in review of homework. This CAT can also be used as a summative, graded assessment if desired, but you should discuss how the responses will be used with students prior to implementation.

Process: During the last few minutes of the class period, ask students to answer two questions on a half-sheet of paper:

  1. What is the most important point you learned today? and
  2. What important question remains unanswered?

Review responses and make note of any useful or important comments. During the next class session, implement any changes (review, additional instruction, etc.) or let the students know why you are not implementing changes.

Muddiest Point
The purpose of the muddiest point CAT is to discover where students need more clarification.

Process: At the end of any lecture, presentation, assignment, paper, discussion, play, reading, video, etc., ask students to write down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest (most unclear) point in the lecture or unit?” After the end of the session, review submissions for the most common responses and discuss them during the next class period.

What About Online Courses?

Both of these CATs can be done in an online course with a small amount of pre-planning. Prior to the course session, prepare a Google form with the same questions. Push out a link to the form to students near the end of a synchronous session. For asynchronous modules you can link the form in a Moodle site at the end of each module. Note that once the collection form is created, you can reuse it.

Give it a Shot!

During your next class session, try using one of these Classroom Assessment Techniques. See what information you can obtain from your students and how it can help you increase student success in your courses. If you would like help designing or would like to discuss Classroom Assessment Techniques, contact the Office of Faculty Development for a consultation. We are here to help, and be on the lookout for other techniques highlighted in future posts.