Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

Overview and Introduction: The WHAT and WHO

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are simple, non-graded or low-stakes activities designed to give you and your students useful feedback on the learning-teaching process as it is happening. They are great examples of formative assessment as they are intended to form and shape instructional experiences. Student responses to these quick interactions help inform where the instructor should to clear up misconceptions, go into more detail, provide enrichment activities or proceed as planned [1].

While the concept of formative assessment and short instruction informing activities is not new, the first real documentation of specific techniques was undertaken in 1988 by K. Patricia Cross and Thomas A. Angelo when they published “Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for Faculty” [1]. Since that time, they have gained popularity as educators have intentionally embedded them within their instruction.

CATs can help facilitate learning experiences to the benefit of both students and instructors.


  • Are able to see how they are progressing over time
  • Become more engaged as they become active participants in the learning experience
  • Are empowered to take more ownership over their learning as they see their feedback can make a difference in how and what they learn


  • Receive and supply timely feedback allowing for the adaptation of lessons based upon student understanding
  • Can be alerted when a certain teaching approach is not working as intended while there is still time to impact learning
  • Better understand the ways their students learn the best
  • Can use the adaptable techniques in various settings (ex. small/ large class, on-ground/online)
  • Do not need to spend large amounts of time to prepare and administer CATs
  • Can conduct them during regular instruction time

Implementation and Timing: The WHEN, WHERE, and HOW

Traditionally CATs are delivered at the end of a class session and student responses are meant to inform the next session’s instructional materials and activities. With learning and teaching models evolving to meet the needs of various populations at various times, it makes sense that these assessment techniques can be sprinkled throughout key moments within a lesson or course. 

A good time to deploy a CAT is whenever and wherever just-in-time assessment would help inform further activity and instruction (e.g.,  Muddiest Points). They are also useful in moments where you want to ensure your students are engaged and tuned into what you are sharing (e.g.,  Polls).

Understanding what students know and do not know is crucial for effective learning.  Technology tools or EdTech tools, can aid in the collection of student data and ultimately support instructors in identifying the learners’ understanding of course content.  Some technology tools include:  Google Forms, iClicker, Kahoot, QuestionPro, ect.

Examples of CATs include the following: 

  • Background Knowledge Probe – This can be a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ preconceptions in relation to the course objectives and content so the instructor can guide students toward a complete understanding.
  • Minute Paper – Tests how students are grasping a concept. The instructor ends instruction by asking students to write a brief response to the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this session?” and “What important question remains unanswered?”
  • Muddiest Points – This is a well known and widely used technique. It consists of asking students to write down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most unclear” or “most confusing.”
  • What’s the Principle? – This CAT gives students some problems and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each situation. This  is helpful in courses that require problem-solving. When students figure out what type of problem they are dealing with, they must decide what principle(s) to apply in order to solve the problem. 
  • Defining Features Matrix – Prepare an activity with a matrix of three columns and several rows.  At the top of the first two columns, list two distinct concepts that have potentially confusing similarities (e.g. Students in a bioengineering class are learning  Excitation and Ionization.  Learners set up a matrix to compare and contrast these two terms.  In an Automotive Engineering course, learners might set up a matrix to compare and contrast MATLAB and SIMULINK.  ).  In the last column, list the key characteristics of both concepts in no particular order.  Give the learners the handout and have them use the matrix to identify which characteristics belong to each of the two concepts.  This activity can help instructors discover which characteristics give students the most trouble.
  • Student Generated Test Questions – the instructor shares broad guidelines about the types of questions that may appear on assessments. Students then draft questions as well as feedback/rubrics for correct and incorrect answers.

Rationale and Research: The WHY

With the ever-changing landscapes of classroom settings, the use of technology and CATs in general has proven effective in increasing academic achievement.  The use of  discussion forums, as a CAT, in an online college math course positively impacted students in two manners.  First, the overall usage and engagement with the discussion forums increased as compared with the same course, taught prior without the adoption of the CAT.  Students who took the course with the CATs also had a higher score overall on their quizzes as compared to the students who took the course before, again without the adoption of the CAT [2].  

Additional Resources and References

Interested in learning more?  Here are citations referenced in this document.

[1]  K. P. Cross and T. A. Angelo, Classroom assessment techniques. A handbook for Faculty. Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse, 1988.

[2]  T. Cross and K. Palese, “Increasing learning: Classroom assessment techniques in the online classroom,” Taylor & Francis, 10-Jun-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 03-Jan-2023].