Faculty Toolkit Heading Graphic
Faculty Toolkit Logo

Classroom Assessment Techniques: Beyond (and Before) Quizzes, Exams, and Projects

Author: Margie Whalen | Heidi Parra and Debbie Rivers Subject: All subjects Created: 2017-02-06
From The Author The word "assessment" carries some heavy baggage, evoking images of students seated in rows, taking tests by which they are placed in classes, earn grades, and get credits. This is NOT what CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques) do. Instead, CATs are quick, focused, ungraded (and often anonymous) ways of taking stock of how students are doing--what they understand, what they don't, what they need from us (and themselves) to succeed in our classes. Faculty from across campus, in classes ranging from English to math to career guidance to computer technology, have found CATs to be a useful tool for making their classes more responsive and effective, giving voice and agency to all the students in the room. - Margie Whalen

Impact on Faculty

1. Faculty will assess what their students are learning before grading them on it.
2. Faculty will learn what all students--not just the active participants--are learning.
3. Faculty will assess what areas in their curriculum may be most difficult for their students and whether or not their teaching methods are effectively addressing those difficult areas.

Impact on Students

1. Students will rehearse information before being held accountable for it on quizzes, exams, or projects.
2. Students will articulate those areas on which they are confused before facing it on a quiz, exam, or project.
3. Students will assess their own behaviors as learners.

Toolkit Survey

Toolkit Overview

These techniques, which were pioneered by K. Patricia Cross and Tom Angelo, come in a variety of forms. Asking students, for instance, to list the clearest and most confusing points from a class session allows several things to happen: 1) Instructors avoid the "Gang of Five" syndrome in which the same reliable four or five students answer all questions posed during lecture, giving the teacher a false reading of the whole class's understanding of the material; 2) Students in the class are given a voice in an ungraded chance to rehearse knowledge, express confusion, or understand their own learning process and responsibilities. 3) Students discover--before being graded via quizzes, exams, and projects--what they know and don't know. 4) Faculty become more responsive and agile in their teaching, adjusting to the needs of each particular group of students.

A sampling of CATs includes the following: 1) A one-minute paper at the end of a class session, assignment, or reading in which students respond to questions like "Explain the most important thing you learned today" or "What part of this material is the most difficult for you, and why?"
2) Clearest/muddiest point: Students are asked to write down the clearest and muddiest point of a lecture, reading, or exercise. 3) A list of key concepts: students write down a list of key concepts, which then can be compared to the teacher's list. 4) Background knowledge probe: Before beginning a lesson or unit, faculty find out what students already know, asking them to define terms, make generalizations, or list what they already know. 5) Memory matrix: Having students complete a memory matrix or chart (detailed or quite simple) that provides an overview of key concepts or terms. See attachments section for samples. Do remember that these are ungraded; they provide you (and your students) with a quick snapshot of what they know, what they don't, and what they need.

Steps To Implement

General Principles offered by Tom Angelo:
1. Use assessment regularly.
2. Don't ask for what you don't want to know.
3. Don't ask for feedback unless you can (and are willing to) respond to it promptly.
4. Don't simply adopt methods from others; adapt them to your subject area, your class, your teaching style.
5. Always ask yourself, "How will knowing the answer to this help improve student learning? " If you can't think of an answer, ask yourself if it's worth doing.

Steps for Implementation:
1. After looking at the samples--in the Toolkit Overview, in the Attachments section, in the links, or in the book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for Faculty by K. Patricia Cross and Thomas A. Angelo--consider which techniques will work best for your students and your classes.
2. As you do this, keep in mind four things: What do you want to know? What technique will help you find out what you want to know? How will you integrate that technique into your class? How will you respond to what you find out?
2. Consider those points in the semester at which those assessments might be most useful. You may want to use them spontaneously, but many faculty have found that having them in mind for particular points in the semester is useful; the attachments section includes samples from Mt. SAC math professors Heidi Parra and Debbie Rivers, in which they noted particular points in the semester when they would be using CATs.
3. Schedule time for assessments. They can be quite quick (from a couple of minutes to more than that); longer ones (like a memory matrix) may take longer and can be done at home, though in general, these should be done in class.
4. If you can find an "Assessment Buddy" who wants to try this in his/her classes, that's always a bonus, as it is especially rewarding to be able to talk about results with a colleague.