Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

A classroom assessment is a simple feedback method faculty can use to collect feedback, early and often, on how well students are learning what they are being taught. They provide faculty and students with information and insights needed to improve teaching effectiveness and learning quality in order for students to become more independent, successful learners.

Classroom assessments are formative, meaning that they are designed to improve the quality of student learning, not to provide evidence for evaluating or grading students. Formative assessments can be either formal or informal. They are helpful in “fine tuning” your courses.

Benefits for Instructors

  • Provide short-term feedback about learning/team process while the teaching/learning relationship is still intact.
  • Provide information about student learning in less time compared to tests, papers and other formal assessments.
  • Help foster good rapport with students.
  • Encourage the view that the teaching process evolves with feedback.
  • Help faculty to focus on student learning.

Benefits for students

  • Helps students become self-directed learners and monitors of their own learning.
  • Provides evidence that the instructor cares about learning.
  • Provides an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback to the instructor.
  • Students view it as a positive learning experience.

Some common classroom assessments

One-Minute Paper – Ask students to write a “one minute paper” at the end of class in which they summarize the main point of that session, or answer a specific question from the class.

One-Sentence Summary – Require students to write a one-sentence summary of a key idea at the end of class, or at both the beginning and end of class to see how their understanding changes. The same approach can be used by asking them to define a key term.

Two-Column List – Have students prepare a list of pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages to an idea, approach, method or decision. Or ask them to connect specific ideas to general principles, or general concepts to specific problems from a list.

Application Cards – Give students an index card, asking them to hand in a solution to a problem covered in lecture or applying an analytical technique just learned.

What’s the Principle? – Ask students to write in their own words a principle discussed in class, or ask them to distill a principle from the day’s lecture.

Muddiest Point – Ask students to write down the idea from that day’s class which they found most confusing, or pose a question that the day’s lesson raised for them. Then clarify those points or address those questions the next time you meet.


Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by T. Angelo and P. Cross, 1993, Jossey-Bass. (Available from the FDC Lending Library.)

Polling Students During Class

One easy way to gauge students’ understanding and perceptions in real-time in class is with the use of polling systems. Checking in with students by asking them conceptual or opinion questions in an anonymous fashion is both informative for instructors and engaging for students. Instructors can accomplish this in a number of ways, including some free online polling resources. At UMBC, however, faculty also have access to a system that allows student response data to be captured in Blackboard. This personal response system can work with either a physical device (i.e., a “clicker”) or by using students’ mobile devices as discussed below.


“Clickers” – also known as “Personal Response Systems” or “Audience Response Systems” – are small devices used by students to answer questions in class. Instructors ask a question, students use the clicker to register and answer and the clicker software shows a chart of the answers in the aggregate. At the same time, the software records who has answered so that instructors can give credit if they wish. Faculty can also use Mobile Responses to have students respond via their smartphones, phones, tablets, etc. as opposed to buying a physical clicker.

DoIT supports a clicker system made by Turning Point Technologies which is set up to work easily with Blackboard. DoIT provides a number of FAQ pages on specific clicker questions, many of which are directed toward students. DoIT provides periodic training on using clickers and can also provide you with one-on-one help to get started. The best way to get familiar with using clickers, though, is to experiment with them.

Why Use Polling?

Many clicker questions could be asked without clickers. Instructors could ask for a show of hands to poll students or ask students to hold up different colored pieces of paper to indicate multiple choice answers. Clickers add value by allowing you to:

  • Track responses to give credit
  • Calculate and display answers immediately and graphically in a histogram
  • Keep previous answers to revisit later and show how thinking has changed
  • Allow students to answer anonymously without worrying about being wrong in front of peers
  • Reach each student on every question

Ways to Use Polling Systems

  • Pre-test / Post-test – Ask students to answer a question or solve a problem before lecture; then ask again later that day or another day to check understanding.
  • Class demographics – Ask students to answer “get to know you” questions such as “How many people are Maryland residents?” or “How many people voted in the last election?”
  • Statistical Analysis – Ask students a question (e.g. How many hours do you study outside of class?) and then walk students through an analysis of the histogram.
  • Text Interpretation – Give students several choices of an interpretation of the text, one of which is clearly not supported by the text. Follow up with a discussion asking students to explain what evidence in the text led them to make the choice they did.
  • Writing Feedback – One student’s work is featured for a day. Students answer specific questions on the work (e.g. Which sentence is the thesis?, Which of these pieces of evidence do you find most convincing?). Clickers allow students to offer feedback which they might otherwise be unwilling to give.

Best Practices for Polling

  • Use no more than 5 choices on a question– Too many choices may make it difficult for students to answer a question quickly.
  • Give students sufficient time to answer questions– How much time is dependent on several factors including the question’s difficulty level and whether students are discussing or collaborating. Most instructors give students between 30 seconds-1 minute to actually input the answer.
  • Plan for Mishaps– Clickers sometimes break or run out of batteries. Students will sometimes bring the wrong clicker or forget it altogether. Allowing students to miss a few days without penalty will alleviate a number of student complaints, saving you time and aggravation.
  • Prevent Cheating–If you are using clickers to track attendance for credit, students may send one friend with several clickers. A strongly worded policy against this behavior with a sufficient penalty may be enough of a deterrent to keep this behavior at bay. Make sure students know whether or not they are allowed to collaborate on a given question. Clear communication about how clickers should be used in your class may help prevent behaviors you find objectionable.
  • Anticipate student resistance– Many students consider clickers expensive, and they resent having to buy the clicker if they think the instructor could have achieved the same ends with a simple method, like raising hands. Students tend to be particularly annoyed if clickers are used simply as “attendance takers.” For these reasons, consider using the mobile option.

Resources for Polling

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching – Clickers

Agile Learning – Dr. Derek Bruff’s website (also includes information on a wider range of instructional technology)

Turning Technologies

7 Things You Should Know About Clickers. EDUCAUSE, January 2011. (PDF)

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