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Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs): An Introduction

How can I tell what my students are thinking?

There are several ways to answer this important question. A general answer is that students often have enough time on their hands, even as they sit in class and listen, to think about several things at the same time. None of us puts 100 percent of our attention to a lecture for long periods of time. Instead, attention waxes and wanes.

We also know that students have seven developmental tasks they are working on during the college years: achieving intellectual, physical, and social competence; managing emotions; becoming autonomous; establishing identity; managing interpersonal relationships; clarifying purpose; and developing integrity (Chickering, 1969). At times, students are probably thinking about these other things, rather than about purely intellectual pursuits.

But good teachers will also want to know a more specific answer. In fact, a set of techniques has been developed to get at the question, “What are students thinking?” They are called Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), and were developed by Angelo and Cross (1993). There are many varied CATs that can be used. The most important things is that they are quick to use, easy to interpret, and provide a wealth of information about our students’ thinking, so we can have a better idea of what is going on with our students.

Using a CAT is a little like asking a research question. Is there something you would like to know about your specific students in your specific course? CATs can get at:

  • What do students come to my course knowing (or thinking they know)?

  • What are they thinking at any moment in class?

  • What did they get out of today’s class compared to what I wanted them to get?

  • What are they thinking when they study (or how did they go about answering a problem)?

Why should I use CATs?

For instructors, more frequent use of CATs can:
  • Provide short–term feedback about the day–to–day learning and teaching process at a time when it is still possible to make mid–course corrections.

  • Provide useful information about student learning with a much lower investment of time compared to tests, papers, and other traditional means of learning assessment.

  • Help to foster good rapport with students and increase the efficacy of teaching and learning.

  • Encourage the view that teaching is a formative process that evolves over time with feedback.

For students, more frequent use of CATs can:
  • Help them become better monitors of their own learning.

  • Help break down feelings of anonymity, especially in larger courses.

  • Point out the need to alter study skills.

  • Provide concrete evidence that the instructor cares about learning.

CATs are feedback devices to help us determine how much, how well, and simply how our students learn. Many faculty on the Bloomington campus use CATS regularly. Make an appointment with one of our consultants to help you identify the question you would like to ask about your students’ learning and adapt a CAT to your topic. View some sample CATS and read about how one professor applied the Minute Paper CAT to his introductory psychology course.


Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chickering, A. (1969). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

See also

Classroom Assessment Techniques: Specific Methods

Minute Paper CAT

For more help or information

Contact CITL to speak with a consultant about using CATs in your teaching.