Classroom Assessment Techniques, Part 2: Synthesis, Critical and Creative Thinking

By Dr. Diane Chapman, Executive Director, OFD

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of using Classroom Assessment Techniques, or CATs. In Part 2, I will continue to discuss creating and using different types of CATs.


As a reminder, 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.

Four CATs to Incorporate for Assessing Synthesis, Critical Thinking & Creative Thinking

These four CATs can be used effectively in both large or small courses and online or face-to-face. They are designed to focus on assessing student learning in critical and creative thinking and synthesis.

One-Sentence Summary
The purpose of the one sentence summary is to assess a student’s ability to determine the most salient points or key parts of a topic, problem, or idea.

Process: Students are asked to respond to the following questions using only one sentence. “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” (WDWWWWHW) This is done in response to a given topic and prompting students to create a single informative, grammatically correct, and long summary sentence. Here is an example of this technique.

Analytic Memo
The purpose of the analytic memo is to analyze a problem to help inform a decision-maker. Students can synthesize several sources of information and write in a concise way. This is best for smaller courses and especially useful when there are various ways to approach a problem.

Process: Students are asked to write a 1 to 2 page memo analyzing a specific problem or issue. In most cases, you would ask students to write the paper to a specific audience such as the leader of a professional organization, an employer, or a policy leader. A step-by-step guide can be found here.

Pro and Con Grid
The purpose of the pro and con grid is to assess students’ abilities to look at a topic or problem from views that may be different than their own. Students are forced to do more than react to a topic.

Process: Students are asked to list pros/cons, costs/benefits, advantages/disadvantages of an issue, question, or value of competing claims. This is helpful in all types of disciplines and helps to assess student depth and breadth of analysis. Here is an example of a Pro and Con Grid.

Concept Map
The purpose of the pro and con grid is to assess students’ abilities to display concepts and show how they are connected. A well-drawn concept map challenges the students in their understanding of the topic and poorly drawn maps allow an instructor to quickly identify gaps in logic or comprehension.

Process: Students are asked to draw or diagram the mental connections they make between a major concept and other concepts they have learned. Concept maps have two main components 1. Terms or concepts – usually presented in boxes; 2. Directional links (arrows) and linking phrases (prepositions) – that connect the terms. Here are guidelines and examples of how to use concept mapping.

What About Online Courses?

All of these CATs can be done in an online course or face-to-face. You can use Google forms or folders to collect responses or even have the students work in small groups to share their responses with others and come up with a group consensus response. There are also free tools for developing concept maps digitally such as Mindmup,, and SimpleMind.

Let Us Know!

During your next class session, try using one of these Classroom Assessment Techniques. Let us know at the Office of Faculty Development (OFD) what works and what does not in your specific context. If you would like help designing or would like to discuss Classroom Assessment Techniques, contact the OFD for a consultation. We are here to help, and be on the lookout for other techniques highlighted in future posts.


  • Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1988). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Link to Full Text