Subject: CAT of the Semester (Classroom Assessment Technique)
Date: 02/25/2004

The CAT of the “month” is back.  I know, it was last October that we sent one out.  We were encouraged by the positive feedback, but time got away from us.  So, here it is, the CAT (Classroom Assessment Technique) of the Semester! 

CAT’s are an efficient way to discover how you are doing as a teacher and how your students are doing as students. You can assess your students frequently throughout the semester, using a variety of time-efficient techniques. One technique you can try:

Misconception/Preconception Check

This technique gives teachers the opportunity to identify what students know before preparing lectures and activities.  “Its focus is on uncovering prior knowledge or beliefs that may hinder or block further learning.”

1. Start by identifying some of the most troublesome common miscon­ceptions or preconceptions students bring to your course. Brainstorm­ing this question with colleagues in your department or field can be a very effective way to generate such a list.


2. Select a handful of these troublesome ideas and beliefs - ones that are likely to interfere most with learning in your course -- and focus your Misconception/Preconception Check on them.

3. Create a simple questionnaire to elicit information about ideas and beliefs in these areas. You may want to use a multiple-choice format or a short-answer format. Short-answer questions can more useful information, but they compromise anonymity.  Multiple-choice questionnaires are therefore safer, and the responses easier to analyze. If you need to know how strongly held the beliefs or ideas are, consider providing Likert-scale responses such as those used by the biology instructor in the example above.

4. Have another faculty member read your questions to make sure they do not seem patronizing, threatening, or obvious.

5. Before giving the questionnaire to your students, think through how you will respond to several likely outcomes. Strike any questions or topics you do not feel prepared to deal with.

6. Explain your reasons for using this CAT to the students, make sure the anonymity of their responses is ensured, and announce when and how you plan to respond to their feedback.

Attached is more detail on this technique, along with some examples of how teachers have used the Misconception/Preconception Check in their course.

Information in this email and in the attachment comes from “Classroom Assessment Techniques; a Handbook for College Teachers” (Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross, Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, 1993.)  The book is available for Check-out in the FTC. 

Please let us know if you use Misconception/Preconception Check or any other Classroom Assessment Technique. We'd like to hear how they work in your classroom.

The Faculty Technology Center