Teaching Handbook

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

General Information | Key Characteristics | Advantages
Tips for Implementing CATs

Relevant Books

Related Page

General Information

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are quick, easy in-class activities that act as a way to get formative feedback on a specific topic of lesson. They can be used as a(n):

  • part of the participation grade,
  • way for students to answer questions honestly with little fear,
  • way for instructors to check students understanding prior to larger pieces of summative assessment,
  • way to increase learning the classroom,
  • assessment that can help students become better learners, and instructors better teachers.

Key Characteristics

Classroom assessment:

  • Needs to be focused on the learner. For assessment to be worthwhile, the goal needs to be to improve students learning, not improving teaching. Teaching will improve as a result of the improved learning.
  • Is effective largely because it is teacher-directed. When implemented, the instructor decides when to give it, the specific questions and directions, and what to do with the results.
  • Is mutually beneficial for students and instructors. Students are given proof that their instructors care personally about their overall learning, while instructors constantly think about the impact of their teaching, and how they can improve students learning.
  • Is meant to be formative, not summative. Rather than emphasize the importance of grades, CATs are usually anonymous and/or ungraded. They are intended to serve as a way to check student understanding and misconceptions, and improve overall learning.
  • Changes based off of the experience and needs of the students and instructor, along with the content. There is no single technique that works with all groups of students and instructors. Some only work at the start of course, some only work in specific disciplines, and others are impacted drastically by the individual student responses.
  • Is not a one-time thing. Assessment cannot be done once or twice and considered effective. It is most useful when used as often as necessary, and when the information gathered is utilized and relayed the students (closing the feedback loop).
  • Is not something new to classrooms. Instructors have been getting feedback about student learning since education began, whether it was through traditional tests or asking questions to the class to answer. These techniques just act as a way to streamline the traditional teaching and learning process.1


  • They are quick. Most can be completed a few minutes, or are done during the class session. In that way, they are largely unobtrusive
  • They are extremely flexible in nature. Depending on the desires and interests of the instructor, they can become unique to a specific class.
    • CATs can be either anonymous or not, which can be useful depending on the class.2
  • Students as a whole are given feedback on a regular basis, and when the topic is still relevant.
  • Instructors are given the chance to provide feedback with significantly less effort than is required with more summative assessments.
  • Reinforces the idea that learning is a process, not a destination.
    • Students are encouraged to show what they actually know and are thinking, not just what the correct answer is.3

Tips for Implementing CATs

  • Find a technique that meets your needs instead of changing instruction to meet a specific CAT.
  • Use them strategically; be sure to use at least one before a large piece of summative assessment, like a test or a paper.
  • Do not use them unless you have a genuine reason.
    • If done too often, you'll have too much data to realistically use, and students will get burnt out.
  • With any CAT, fully explain how it works, its intended purpose and your goals for the information.
  • Make sure to relay the feedback you get back to your students, along with your next steps.4
  • Try to either take your CAT yourself first, or have a colleague give it a run through.
  • Make sure to give students ample time to complete the assessment - as a rule of thumb, give them twice as long as it took you to take it.
  • Have a plan for how you intend to group and organize the results as they come in.5

Source Information

1. Angelo, T. & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College TeachersSan Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

2. Mithra, D. Classroom Assessment Techniques. Retrieved online: University of South Carolina, Center for Excellence in Teaching.

3. Center for Teaching. (2014). Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). Retrieved online: Vanderbilt University.

4. Teaching and Learning Collaborative. (2014). Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs): A Guide for Faculty and Teaching Assistants. Retrieved online: The George Washington University.

5. Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence. (2014). Using Classroom Assessment Techniques. Retrieved online: Carnegie Mellon University.

Mentioned relevant books may be available through the CIIA's Lending Library or Wilson Library.