Book Review: Classroom Assessment Techniques

Thomas Angelo and Patricia Crosss’ book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers was the third text that we reviewed in AHE 603. I believe that the three texts chosen for this class compliment each other so well. Bain’s book put us in the right mindset of the best teachers. Barkley’s book provided us with techniques for student engagement and Cross and Angelo’s book now provides us tools to assess learning.

Classroom Assessment, defined by the two authors, is a systematic approach to help professors find out what their students are learning and how well they are learning it. The focus is on the students, but the approach is very much teacher-directed. It is also clearly stated that these techniques are focused on formative assessment, “they are almost always never graded and are almost always anonymous” (Angelo & Cross, p.5). In chapter two, the text introduces the Teaching Goals Inventory (TGI), a survey that teachers use to clarify what their goals are for the students to learn in their class. The authors argue that in order to assess instruction, faculty must clarify their intentions for their students. The TGI has 6 clusters of teaching priorities: higher order thinking skills, basic academic success skills, discipline-specific knowledge and skill, liberal arts and academic values, work and career preparing, and personal development. These priorities help teachers link Classroom Assessments efforts to professors teaching goals.

More often than not teachers are assessing their students in a summative manner, at the end of units or sections. These assessments are necessary for documenting grades, but they usually don’t provide an opportunity for real-time inquiry on how students are doing. Sometimes it is too late to provide corrected instruction for the student, and honestly, the student’s confidence would have suffered from mediocre or poor grades. The Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT)in the book are described as “feedback devices, instruments that faculty can use to find out how much, how well, an even how students are learning and what they are trying to teach. Each CAT is a specific procedure or activity designed to help faculty get immediate and useful answers to very focused questions about student learning” (Angelo & Cross, P. 25).  Before introducing the 50 CAT, the authors provide 12 examples of how the techniques are being used in the field. I resonated with the Documented Problem Solution (CAT 21) used for the calculus instruction. I used the same technique to conquer Calculus 106 in college. The professor had me work out my math problems on the left hand of the page while writing a narrative on the right that included a summary of the decisions that I took to complete the problem. The Productive Study-Time Logs (CAT 37) used for the stats class provided the professor with not only an understanding of his student’s study efforts, but also a class data that was later used for the study of regression.

Regarding the 50 CATS, they are indexed in the text alphabetically, by usefulness in specific disciplines, and by related TGI clusters. Below I will review the CAT that I found most interesting and provide an example of how I would implement it in my discipline of international education:

Techniques for Assessing Course Related Knowledge and Skills

Muddiest Point (CAT 7): This technique is one of the simplest and can be replicated in the large 400-student pre-departure orientations that take place prior to international departures. We already use Poll Everywhere, and this software can be used to ask the students about the “muddiest” point of the pre-trip training. We could reaffirm UA’s communication strategy during an emergency or reiterate how grades are calculated on study abroad programs. I can see our team implementing the muddiest point technique in next months’ pre-departure orientations.

Techniques for Assessing Learner Attitudes, Values and Self-Awareness

Goal Ranking and Matching (CAT 35):  This is also a simple procedure that can have huge implication for study abroad. This technique can happen the first or second day when a group lands in country and it calls for students to list a few learning goals that they hope to achieve throughout the course. Students usually go to a study abroad knowing what they want to “see” in the country, but sometimes they haven’t thought about what they want to learn. The professor can take these list and first see if they identify with his goals, and secondly try to make sure that most of the learning goals are reached throughout the trip.

Techniques for Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction

Chain Notes (CAT 41): Faculty oftentimes complain about students preparedness to business tours and visits during a study abroad. It may be that students are just overwhelmed that they are in a different country and are not preparing for the daily visits. It may also be that the faculty member isn’t doing enough prep-work prior to a trip. The easy chain technique could be used on the way to a tour or a company visit by simply passing around an index card on the bus with a question that the professor has developed on the index card. It could be a way for student’s to indicate prior knowledge about a country or it could be used to solicit questions from students for a upcoming visit.

As mentioned before, I appreciate all of the texts that were selected for the course. I hope to keep them in my library as a resource for any training or future classes that I teach.





  1. Hi, Carolina,

    Your discussion of summative assessments and formative assessments is enlightening and reinforcing of the text. We may share similar views regarding CATs 37, 7, and 35. I used CAT 37 before and I felt like I was being very productive, but I might have over-studied!

    I am a goal setter because I know that goal setting works. I prefer the goal setting of Bain and Barkley to Angelo and Cross. I perceived the TGI Clusters as too specific and narrow to affect any positive change to classroom assessments or teaching goals for students.

    FYI, I experienced an error message the first time I posted this comment a few minutes ago. I apologize if this reply occurred twice.

    Best regards,



  2. Hi Carolina,

    Your review is so great! I loved reading how you would implement specific CATs in your current role with Study Abroad. The examples Angelo and Cross provide with each CAT in the book are very helpful and I appreciated that they attempted to include examples from several different disciplines. Your review adds so much to this in a similar way because you’ve shown how administrators can use good teaching practices, specifically regarding assessment, in their roles. I also thought the Muddiest Point CAT was a universally applicable tool for teachers in most disciplines and class sizes to implement. This CAT seemed like such a good way for teachers to intervene before students got too behind in a course or confused. While reading through the CAT section, did you find any CATs that you felt would not work as well?



  3. Hi Carolina,

    I was most surprised with how you recognized that your own teachers used some of these very techniques with you as a student. I suppose that puts them in the “Classic” category, tried and true.

    All semester, I have been impressed by how you have applied (seemingly) in-class teaching techniques to the study abroad students that you work with on a daily basis. While you offer training and information sessions in place of traditional classes, your ability to adapt traditional techniques for your specific needs is admirable and impressive. Well done!

    I hope that your passion for your students will one day be allowed to flourish in the classroom so that you may motivate more students beyond the study abroad students that you currently support to thoroughly. Would that be a direction that you would consider pursuing?




  4. Carolina,

    I’m so glad you’re able to see how these can be useful for study abroad. The techniques you mention make a lot of sense. From what you have told us during class, checking in and assessing the students is important while abroad – not just for academics, but for the students’ well-being. Polling is something that we talk about in my office, since we support the clickers and software, but we hear all of the technical complaints about this system and systems like it. It’s exciting for me when I know it’s still useful in spite of the complaints.

    Thank you for your example about your calculus class! I’m currently taking intro to stats. As a qual and Lit. person, I feel the need for prose or narrative while all of these numbers are swirling around my notes. Keeping them organized and explaining them to myself would be a great learning tool. With so many techniques in this book, it’s easy to miss things that could be useful to us as students while we’re reading it as future instructors/administrators.

    I had the same question as a previous comment, did you find anything that would absolutely not work?




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