Checks for Understanding

There are numerous classroom assessment methods, but common to all is that they ask students to demonstrate or apply their knowledge.1 Use a variety of assessment methods to enable students to best demonstrate their understanding. Selecting the assessments you employ in your class is an important consideration; research indicates that the types of assessment instructors use impact what, how, and how much students study, as well as how they participate in course activities.2, 3 The following provides information about a few common assessment methods for you to consider using in your class to assess student learning and the effectiveness of your lectures.


Student response systems also known as “clickers” are any technological device that allows for students to respond in class and get immediate feedback on their answers. Numerous educational theorists such as B.F. Skinner and Robert Gagné discuss the importance of immediate feedback in learning.  When an individual receives immediate feedback it allows them to rectify any misconceptions they hold.  This is important because the longer a misconception persists, the more challenging it is to change.  Student response systems make it feasible to provide students with immediate feedback in the classroom.  Research on their impact indicates that it results in small to moderate gains in student engagement and interest 6 and gains in learning 7 especially for students in the bottom quartile.8

To use classroom response systems, students can purchase the iClicker device or you can use free online tools (such as that allow them to respond from common electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets or laptops. You will also need to develop assessment items to which students will respond during instruction.

The One Sentence Summary

A quick method of assessing student learning is the one-sentence summary. This method allows instructors to determine if students can summarize a large amount of information in one sentence about a given topic. Ask them to consider the following questions: “Who does what to whom, when, where, how and why?”4 Students can use their answers to these questions to create a single sentence. This exercise assists instructors in determining students’ understanding of information presented during instruction and also helps students develop the ability to synthesize information.

An example of a completed one-sentence summary is included below. In this instance, the instructor would ask students to identify the who, when, where, how, and why of the concept of evolution by natural selection.

What is Evolution?




 A species

Does what?

changes  or adapts

To what or whom?

in response to their environment


this occurs over generations


in the organism’s environment


each organism possesses some unique traits which are passed on to their offspring


within each generation, more offspring are produced than can survive.  This results in relative prosperity of better adapted offspring.

Evolution is the process by which a species adapts across generations in response to their environment and occurs through natural selection in which the offspring with the best survival traits are more likely to prosper.

The Minute Paper

A quick method for assessing student learning following instruction is the minute paper. The minute paper asks students to develop a short, written response about what they learned from instruction and/or what caused them difficulty in understanding. The minute paper is as beneficial in promoting student reflection as it is for providing information for the instructor.5 It requires no time to develop and minimal time to administer and analyze. You can then review students’ responses, make notes about what was valuable to students, and reteach course concepts that students frequently identify as unclear.


(1) Huba, M. E., & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

(2) Rust, C. (2002). The impact of assessment on student learning: How can the research literature practically help to inform the development of departmental assessment strategies and learner-centered assessment practices? Active Learning in Higher Education, 3, 145-158.

(3) Tang, C. (1994). Assessment and student learning: Effects of modes of assessment on students' preparation strategies.

(4) Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss.

(5) Cross, K.P., & Steadman, M.H. (1996). Classroom research: Implementing the scholarship of teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss.

(6) DeBourgh, G. A. (2008). Use of classroom “clickers” to promote acquisition of advanced reasoning skills. Nurse Education in Practice, 8, 76-87.

(7) Mayer, R.E., Stull, A., DeLeeuw, K., Almeroth, K., Bimber, B., Chun, D., Bulger, M., Campbell, J., Knight, A., & Morling, B., McAuliffe, M., Cohen, L., & DiLorenzo, T. (2008). Efficacy of personal response systems (“clickers”) in large, introductory psychology classes. Teaching of Psychology, 35, 45–50.

(8) Edmonds, C. T., & Edmonds. T.P. (2008). An empirical investigation of the effects of SRS technology on introductory managerial accounting students. Issues in Accounting Education, 23(3), 421–434.

(9) Toppino, T., C. & Brochin, H., A. (1989). Learning from tests: The case of true-false examinations. Journal of Educational Research, 83(2), 119-124.

(10) Gronlund, N. E. (2003). Assessment of student achievement (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

(11) Fernsten, L., & Fernsten, J. (2005). Portfolio assessment and reflection: Enhancing learning through effective practice. Reflective Practice, 6(2), 303–309.