Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs): A Guide for Faculty and Teaching Assistants

The following guide is designed to explain and give examples of how in-class assessment can enhance university teaching and learning. These techniques are based on Classroom Assessment Techniques (Second Edition), by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2003). If you have questions about this material or would like to meet with the faculty development team to discuss how they might work in your courses, please email instructioncore@gwu.edu.

What Are CATs?

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are, typically, ungraded activities conducted in the classroom setting. Their purpose is to provide the instructor feedback on whether or not students understand course material so that adjustments can be made before the end of the term. Frequent use of CATs can also assure students that the instructor takes a genuine, active interest in their learning process throughout the course, before the summative assessment (e.g., final exam or paper) is given at the end of the term.

Why Should I Use CATs?

Frequent use of CATs:

  • Provides regular feedback about student progress and can preempt misconceptions and poor performance on more heavily-weighted tests, quizzes, projects, etc.
  • Gives insight into day-to-day teaching methods and student learning processes. It also can model to students the fact that learning is an ongoing and evolving process that can be modified as needed.
  • Provides students with a means of gauging their own learning styles and then modifying study strategies as appropriate.
  • Helps students feel less anonymous in large class settings, since it is concrete evidence that the instructor cares about student learning.
  • Provides "food for thought" for instructors as they reflect on their teaching and on a particular course at the end of term.

Implementation and Examples of CATs

There are 50 tested assessment techniques from Angelo and Cross. For a series of videos and resources sortable by teaching environment, activity type, and teaching problem addressed, see the K. Patricia Cross Academy, a great resource.

For additional information, please consult the Angelo and Cross book, which is available from Gelman.

Tips on implementation

  • Start off simple by choosing a technique that easily fits your teaching style and classroom time limits.
  • Conduct at least one CAT before the first major assignment, so that you can intercept any problems or questions before the fact.
  • Don't feel obligated to do a CAT every day or every week. You'll create information overload for yourself and "survey overload" for your students.
  • When you do any CAT, explain its purpose and your goal clearly to students.
  • Report your findings to your students and let them know what you plan to do in terms of their feedback.

Additional Resources

The GW Office of Academic Planning and Assessment provides information and guidance on how to effectively incorporate assessment—formative or summative—into a course. Their website provides a Course Assessment Tool kit, worksheets, and other resources. Instructors also may consult various reports and metrics and find out more about initiatives and grants.