Classroom Assessment Techniques, Part 3: Problem-solving, Application and Performance

By Dr. Diane Chapman, Executive Director, OFD

In earlier posts, I introduced the concept of using Classroom Assessment Techniques or CATs for comprehension and for synthesis, and critical and creative thinking. This post focuses on CATs for problem-solving, application and performance.


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 Problem-solving, Application and Performance

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

Student-generated Test Questions
The purpose of the student-generated test questions is to give students the opportunity to evaluate the course topics, reflect on what they understand, and discover the aspects of effective test questions.

Process: Students are asked to write two test questions and model answers for specified topics, in a format consistent with course exams. You may want to give groups of students different topics or let them choose. You can then evaluate the questions and use the good ones as discussion prompts or to build an exam test bank. More about student generated test questions.

Directed Paraphrasing
The purpose of directed paraphrasing is to analyze the students’ ability to comprehend materials and transfer knowledge.
Process: Students are asked to write in layperson’s terms, about something they learned. The instructor or students should choose a target audience such as a grandparent, parent, employer, sibling, etc. Students can either turn these in or share with each other and discuss their level of success in translating the material. Examples of directed paraphrasing.

Application Cards
The purpose of application cards is to quickly determine whether or not students understand the practical applications of what they have learned. Students are forced to link new information with prior knowledge.

Process: After students have been introduced to some principle, generalization, theory, or procedure, you would pass out index cards and ask students to write down at least one possible, real-world application for what they have just learned. To assess, the responses can quickly be separated into four groups — great, acceptable, marginal, and not acceptable. Responses should be discussed in the next class. More about application cards.

Documented Problem Solutions
The purposes of document problem solutions is to assess how students solve problems and to evaluate how well students comprehend and can describe their problem-solving methods.

Process: Students are asked to document the specific steps they take in attempting to solve a problem. The instructor selects two or three problems students have studied in recent weeks. The instructor solves the problems, noting how long it took to solve it and the steps each solution required. Problems should be able to be solved in less than thirty minutes. You should distribute the problem and directions to students making clear that it is not a test or a quiz. It is more important for students to explain how they tried to solve the problems than to get the right answers. Example of documented problem solutions.

What About Online Courses?

All of these CATs can be done in an online course or face-to-face and completed in-class or be alternatively done as homework assignments.

Formative Assessment

Remember that CATs are primarily for formative assessment – to see where your students are while you still have time to change, adapt or add to instruction. Because they are not intended to be graded, most are suitable for both small and large courses. Designing these types of assessments into your courses on a regular basis can also reduce student anxiety over graded assessments by helping them understand your expectations. If you need help in designing a CAT for your course, contact us at the Office of Faculty Development. We also want to hear about your stories of implementing CATs into your courses.