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Faculty Development Center

Classroom assessment Techniques (CATs)

General Characteristics of CATs:

  • Geared to providing practice and general feedback that will improve student learning
  • Designed by the instructor to assess questions of particular concerns in his/her course
  • Intended to assess the whole class’ understanding, not to evaluate individual learners
  • Tailored to content-specific objectives
  • Allows for ongoing feedback with relatively quick assessment tools


Examples of Questions You Might Address with a CAT:

  • How familiar are students with the important names, events and places in history that they will need to know as background in order to understand the lectures and readings (e.g., in anthropology, literature, political science)?
  • How are students applying knowledge and skills learned in this class to their own lives (e.g., psychology, sociology)?
  • How and how well are students using a learning approach that is new to them (e.g., cooperative groups) to master the concepts and principles in this course?
  • To what extent are students aware of the steps they go through in solving problems and how well can they explain their problem-solving steps (e.g., mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering)?


Examples of CATs:

Minute paper — Pose 1-2 questions in which students identify the most significant things they have learned from a given lecture, discussion or assignment. The question can be very general or content specific and their answers help you to determine if they are successfully identifying what you view as most important. Give students about 1-2 minutes and ask them to write a response on an index card or no longer than half a page.


Muddiest Point — Similar to the Minute Paper, ask your students to answer: “What was the muddiest point in . . . (today’s lecture, the reading, the homework)?” Students need to identify fairly quickly what they do not understand and articulate it.


Background Knowledge Probes — Create a short questionnaire to determine how much and what kind of relevant background knowledge students bring to your course. Your goal might be to identify what is familiar to them or determining their level of recall from prior related courses. Be sure to make the questionnaire anonymous and be clear that it is not a quiz and will not be graded.


Problem Recognition Tasks – Identify a set of problems which can clearly be solved better by one of a few methods that you are teaching in the class. Ask students to identify by name which methods best fit which problems without actually solving the problems. This task works best when only one method can be used for each of the problems.


From Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University