STAT: Formative Assessment

There are numerous techniques to develop classroom-tenable formative assessment. The keys to these assessments are keeping them simple, making them count, having clear reasons for doing them, and ensuring that these reasons are obvious to the students. For STAT certification, we encourage faculty to adopt an ‘Index Card Protocol’. This would involve one or some of the many index card (or short and timed answer Sakai/eCollege quiz) approaches (from Angelo and Collins), including:

Application Cards

After teaching about an important theory, principle, or procedure, ask students to write down at least one real-world application for what they have just learned to determine how well they can transfer their learning. Quickly read once through the applications and categorize them according to their quality. Pick out a broad range of examples and present them to the class.

Background Knowledge Probe

Before introducing a new topic or major concept, find out what students already know about the topic. Prepare 2-5 open ended questions; be sure not to use unfamiliar terminology. Write the questions on the board or distribute on a handout. Ask students to write 3-4 sentence answers, making sure that students understand this is not a quiz and will not be graded. Scan the responses and divide them into four piles: erroneous background knowledge, no relevant background knowledge, some background knowledge, and significant background knowledge. Report your findings to the class and adjust your lectures accordingly. You could also form study groups by numbering the four data analysis groups (1-4, lowest to highest) and forming groups of 3 to 4 students from the various knowledge levels. At the end of the course, repeat the exercise, then hand back papers and ask students to compare their two responses. It can be motivating for students to realize just how much they've increased their knowledge. It may also motivate some to seek needed help.

Focused Listing

Ask students to list all the topics and ideas they know that relate to a key concept that you have been emphasizing in lecture. Compare your list to those of students during or outside of class; or give your list to students and have them make the comparisons. Discussion of discrepancies can be enlightening. Reinforce ideas that students tended to leave off their list. Explain why some ideas on students' list are less important for purposes of the course. If student lists are weak, ask them to improve their lists and to turn their lists into essays. As a review for an exam, have students identify numerous exam questions that could be asked on the topics listed. Choose a topic that is neither too broad nor too narrow; some experimentation may be necessary.

Memory Matrix

Students fill in cells of a two-dimensional diagram for which instructor has provided labels. For example, in a music course, labels might consist of periods (Baroque, Classical) by countries (Germany, France, Britain); students enter composers in cells to demonstrate their ability to remember and classify key concepts. Tally the numbers of correct and incorrect responses in each cell. Analyze differences both between and among the cells. Look for patterns among the incorrect responses and decide what might be the cause(s).

Misconception check

Present students with a common misconception. Ask them whether they agree or disagree and explain why.

Muddiest Point

Give students two to three minutes to write about what they felt was the “muddiest point” of that day’s lecture. This technique can be used at the middle or end of a topic that might be confusing to students. Instructors can then use this information to provide clarification when necessary.

One Minute Paper

After your lecture, ask students to take 2-3 minutes to write down the three main ideas of the lecture. Compare your list to student lists or give your list to students and have them make comparisons. Discuss discrepancies. Reinforce ideas that students failed to mention. Direct student attention to the syllabus or course readings that emphasize the ideas that appeared on your list. Explain why you chose the ideas on your list. If there are large discrepancies between student lists and your own, devise ways to better emphasize major points and let students know how you will do this. You might also ask students to suggest ways to better emphasize major points. Ask students to write one or two questions they have after hearing the lecture, or ask them to write their personal opinion responses to a specific concept on which you are lecturing.


Take one to three minutes at the end of class to ask students to write down the most important point from class that day as well as any unanswered questions they may have. This can help instructors assess what students are learning and which points need clarification in future class sessions.

  1. Rutgers
  2. New Brunswick
Program in Science Learning