Classroom Assessment Strategies

Classroom Assessment Strategies

Jaclyn Siano

Classroom assessment plays a fundamental role in education. When used properly, it can significantly improve the quality of learning in the classroom. In other words, adopting a learner-centered, teacher-directed approach by focusing on formative assessment and specific classroom assessment techniques (CATs) can help students identify their learning needs, motivate them to work harder, and overcome their weaknesses.

In this article, we’ll share some of the most popular and well-received classroom assessment techniques that teachers can easily incorporate in their curriculum. But, before we dive into the heart of the matter, let’s go over classroom assessment in more detail.

Types of Assessments

Educational assessments are usually divided into different categories to help policy-makers, administrators, and teachers to better understand the place and importance of evaluations in education. 

Because of this, there are many different ways to divide all evaluation activities in the classroom. Here are some of the most common classifications:

  • based on objective: placement, formative, summative, and diagnostic assessment;
  • based on perspective: objective and subjective assessment;
  • based on structure: formal and informal assessments;
  • based on tester/examiner: internal (school tests, teachers’ tests, self-assessments) and external (state-wide examinations).
  • based on grading: non-graded, criterion, normative, and ipsative assessment.

This is not an exclusive list, but it’s a good overview of the nature and form of educational assessments. It will also help you better understand classroom assessment techniques or CATs.

Based on these classifications, classroom assessment techniques (CATs) are considered internal, non-graded, formative assessments (in most cases) that are relatively subjective  - no standardized structure for grading or evaluating them. Here’s everything you need to know about CATs!

classroom assessment strategies

What Are Classroom Assessment Strategies (CATs)?

Classroom assessment strategy, also called classroom assessment techniques or CATs, are non-graded activities that happen during class (in-class activities). Their purpose is to improve teaching (through feedback) and provide students an opportunity to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, CATs are also considered to be learning activities or learner-centered activities.

Unlike placement and summative assessments, where the students’ accumulated knowledge is weighted and quantitatively compared with other students, CATs are a mere reflection of the students’ ongoing learning process. For instance, CATs show:

  • how students think; 
  • what cognitive techniques they use to memorize and consolidate the material; 
  • how they connect information; 
  • and how they apply or use that information in practice.

The insights from CATs are very beneficial for both teachers and students even though they can’t be easily quantified or standardized.

Benefits of Using CATs

Classroom assessment techniques provide ongoing feedback to teachers and students about the effectiveness of the teaching methods and the learning techniques students employ. Teachers get to see how their lectures are received and understood by students, while students get to see  whether their learning techniques are effective.

It’s important to understand that CATs are much more than tools for evaluation. They’re also an opportunity for teachers to blend assessment with learning. By incorporating CATs in the classroom, they’ll be teaching students how to learn, what skills they need to develop to understand the material better, and how to use their knowledge while assessing each student’s learning potential.

Additionally, classroom assessment techniques increase students’ self-awareness about their own learning potential and current knowledge. This gives students an opportunity to not only be more realistic about their strengths and weaknesses, but to optimize their efforts so they can improve their achievements. In this sense, classroom assessment techniques or CATs are a powerful guide for learning and teaching that improves academic performance.

Classroom assessment techniques are also beneficial for the students' social-emotional development. For instance, CATs show that teachers actually care whether students learn and develop useful skills instead of just being there to get through the day. At the same time, students will get an opportunity to collaborate with their peers and improve their social skills.

Finally, CATs encourage the idea that teaching is a data-dependent approach that changes with time and context. We mean that teachers will understand that there are no universally good ways of teaching because, ultimately, teaching methods must align with the students’ current needs which can be very personal and unique.

How to Create Your Own Assessment Strategy

Knowing all of this, the question that remains is how to develop an effective classroom assessment strategy and use CATs? To reflect on what we said in the previous paragraph, the best way to fine-tune your teaching strategy is to let the results of the CATs guide your decisions (data-driven approach). Here’s how that looks in practice.

The starting point is your current teaching strategy. What insights do you already have about your students’ learning process? If you’re already using some CATs, then evaluate the results and think about what areas need improvement. On the other hand, if you would like to start using CATs for the first time, you first need to decide what you want to assess regarding your students' learning process. This is going to be different for different grades and subjects. Think of skills and objectives students need to develop during your course.

Based on this, choose a CAT that provides that feedback. For example, if you want to assess students’ critical thinking skills, you might benefit from using the Concept Maps technique (explained below). 

The third step is to explain to your students the purpose of the activity before conducting it. Not telling students why you have decided to use any particular assessment method might lead to confusion and anxiety in students.

Finally, review the results, provide feedback to students, and decide how to proceed (if you need to make changes) based on the results. 

Top 9 Classroom Assessment Strategies

Classroom assessment techniques, or classroom assessment techniques (CATs), are not a new concept in education. In fact, most of the CATs referred here (and anywhere else on the internet) originate from an education handbook published in 1993: Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, 2nd edition, by Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross (Jossey-Bass, 1993).

In this book, there are around 50 CATs indexed in many different ways. To make things easier for you, we decided to share some of the most popular and well-received CATs so you can create an informative, encouraging, and mutually-beneficial assessment strategy that will elevate students’ spirits and help them improve their academic performance.

1. The 3-2-1 Format

The 3-2-1 Format is a very simple and effective exercise that students can use to reflect on what they’ve just learned, organize their thoughts, and identify areas of confusion or concern. Additionally, this activity is a great practice for the students’ metacognition -  intentional thinking about one’s own thinking and learning process. 

Teachers, on the other hand, can use the 3-2-1 Format to check how well their students understood the material and to encourage them to review it. Because of this, the 3-2-1 Format makes most sense when it’s used at the end of the lecture. 

How does it work?

After the lecture, ask your students to reflect on what they’ve remembered and learned and ask them to write:

  • 3 ideas or issues with what was presented;
  • 2 examples of how those ideas can be implemented in practice (alternatively examples of how those issues would manifest in practice);
  • 1 unresolved conflict/problem or idea that students didn’t understand.

You can then ask your students to share their responses in a small group or in pairs to see how others think and share opinions. At the end, gather the responses and review how well the lecture was understood.

2. Muddiest Point

Another effective and simple activity is the Muddiest Point.  With this activity, students identify a problem or a confusing concept from the lecture they’ve just been introduced to.

Just like the name suggests, this activity asks students to identify the most difficult or confusing part of the lecture/reading/lesson i.e the muddiest point. 

The Muddiest Point helps teachers get a clearer idea of how students understood the lesson and what areas were most challenging.

How does it work?

Give each student a sticky note and ask them to write down the most challenging or confusing part from today’s class (lesson/reading material/topic) and put it in a bowl. When reviewing the notes, see if some points are being repeated and make a strategy to revise those points in the next class. 

Alternatively, you can instruct your students to pin the notes on the schools’ board and then elaborate on each.

3. Think-Pair-Share

Think-Pair-Share is one of the best activities for promoting collaboration, brainstorming, and discussion among classmates. Best of all, one full session of think-pair-share lasts anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, which means that teachers can easily integrate it into their lesson plans.

How does it work?

The name of Think-Pair-Share illustrates the process through which students will work on a specific topic, question, or an assignment. You can start by presenting an assignment or an open question from a previous lesson. Then, give your students a couple of minutes to think of possible answers and write them down. Finally, instruct them to form pairs with other classmates (not with their closest friends) and share their ideas. 

4. Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is a visual aid for students to connect and represent the relationships between different concepts belonging to a specific topic. For instance, if it’s a history lecture about the American Revolution, students can create a chronological timeline of all the events surrounding the revolution. 

How does it work?

Concept mapping requires a lot of knowledge and mental effort from students, which is why it’s probably more suitable for higher education. You can also prepare and guide younger students in creating a concept map together, as a group project. 

To successfully execute the connect mapping assessment, you should first decide on the concept/theme. Usually, lectures with a lot of facts, dates, and principles work best.

Then, create a concept map yourself to get an idea of what you would expect your students to create. Most concept maps cluster the concepts based on their level of abstraction and then draw connections between them.

Finally, explain the assignment and ask your students to create a concept map as an individual project, homework, or group project. Give them an example and discuss the topic together before they begin. When they’re done, show them your map and explain your thought process. Students can also present their own maps.

5. Memory Matrix

Memory matrix is an awesome learning tool and a great CAT that can help students synthesize complicated information. The memory matrix looks a lot like an excel table with multiple rows and columns. The columns usually represent the categories (concept name, description, example, formula, etc.), while each row is a new concept or a new word that kids need to memorize.

The best thing about memory matrices is that they can be used continuously throughout the school year. Students can gradually fill their memory matrix with new concepts and come back to it to revise every once and a while.

How does it work?

There are two ways in which students can use memory matrices. First, they can use it exclusively as a learning tool on their own. In this case, you can introduce and explain the memory matrix, then ask your students to work on it after each lecture. 

The second way to use the memory matrix is as an assessment tool. Print out blank memory matrices (with only the categories and concepts filled in) and ask your students to fill the matrices with descriptions and examples for each concept.

6. Quizzes

Online or in-person quizzes are some of the best classroom assessment techniques that quickly check a student's knowledge of the previous lecture, give teachers feedback on how much of the material was understood and consolidated, and introduce a friendly competition in the classroom.

How does it work?

While there are ways for you to create a fun quiz offline, this formative assessment works best online. With fun and free learning platforms such as Kahoot, you can easily create a quiz on a specific topic and then ask students to log in from their phones or computers.

7. Analytic Memos

Analytic memos are formative assessments that allow teachers to evaluate students’ analytical and communication skills. The analytical memo is usually a brief note about the students’ thoughts, ideas, and questions on a specific topic.  To express their thoughts and develop a compelling argument, students must apply logical, writing, and analytical skills to express their thoughts and develop a compelling argument.

How does it work?

Present a specific idea, method, or theory and explain the current problems, issues, or challenges related to that topic. Then, ask your students to write a brief (one-page) analysis of the problem and share a possible solution.

8. Defining Features

Defining features is another writing activity that requires students to use critical thinking and analytical skills to complete it. It also gives teachers insights into how well the students have understood the concepts from the course.

How does it work?

Create a table and list specific features that might apply to many different things. Then, instruct your students to categorize the concepts (that you’ll read to them) according to the presence (+) or absence (-) of the features in the table. 

9. Goal Ranking

Goal ranking is a great learning tool that helps students increase their self-awareness and discipline to achieve long-term goals. With this exercise, educators will not only teach students practical life skills, but they’ll also gain insights into the students’ passions, interests, and future goals. Here’s how to do it.

How does it work?

Instruct your students to write five to ten goals that they hope to achieve through the course and explain why each goal is important for them personally. 

Then, tell them to think of all those goals for a couple of minutes and try to rank them based on the relative importance of those goals - “How important is this goal to me?”

In addition to this, students can also rank their goals based on their level of difficulty and completion time (due dates).

Finally, ask your students to compare their priorities with the teachers' course-specific instructional goals and think about how these two fit. Will the curriculum satisfy the students’ expectations? Will they be able to complete the demands of the curriculum with their current goals and priorities?

The goal ranking works best when used at the beginning of a course or unit, so students can manage their expectations and understand what they need to do to achieve their learning goals.


Classroom assessment strategies are valuable tools for educators. With CATs, teachers can identify problems, better understand how students perceive their lectures and give students practical skills for improving their learning techniques. Because the objective of CATs is to help teachers improve their teaching methods and students improve their learning skills, CATs are, by default, formative assessments that should not be graded or used to measure students’ success.

Most classroom assessment techniques originate from the Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, even though educators have invented and shared many others throughout the years.

This post focused on some of the most popular and useful assessment techniques that teachers can easily incorporate into any curriculum. Hopefully, they’ll help you optimize your teaching strategy and build closer relationships with your students.

If you want to read more about formative assessments and learn how to create online assessments for digital classrooms, check out our blog.

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