Best practices in formative assessment

The following best practice principles can guide instructor strategies (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Yale, 2017). 

Click each title to learn more about them.

Apply to your course: Resources & Tools 

There are several strategies and techniques for conducting formative assessment in your course, ranging from perhaps more traditional and common to more creative and engaging. Read on to consider strategies that are appropriate for your course.


UMass-supported Tools


Zoom polls, Iclicker, Google Form


Canvas Discussions, Google Jamboard, Slides, Pages

Group work/collaboration

Zoom break-out rooms, G-Suite (Docs, Slides, Sheets, Etc.), Canvas Collaborations, Canvas Pages

Discussions (written/video/audio

Discussion boards (whole class or small group), VoiceThread , Zoom

Quizzes: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, true/false, short answer

Canvas Quizzes

Case Study

Google Docs , Group Blog area

Open-ended questions

Canvas Assignments


In addition to traditional, common assessment approaches, you may want to consider more creative ways of gathering information from students about their progress and development. CATs, or Classroom Assessment Techniques, designed by Angelo and Cross (1993), can help instructors reconsider their approaches to assessment and incorporate a variety of methods into their course—thus also complying with UDL principles. The chart below highlights some of the 50 tested assessment techniques that are useful in the online teaching format (see the University of California San Diego’s full description of 50 CATs here). 

Another excellent resource for CATs is a series of videos and resources sortable by teaching environment, activity type, and teaching problem: see the K. Patricia Cross Techniques Video Library. Examples of CATs useful in online teaching.




Techniques for Assessing Course-Related Knowledge & Skills

Muddiest Point

Students respond to 1 question: What was the muddiest (most unclear/ confusing) point in ___?

  • Canvas Discussion
  • Google Forms

Word Journal

A two-part response. 1: the student summarizes a short text in a single word. 2: the student writes 1 paragraph explaining the word choice.
  • Journal
  • Assignments

Concept Maps

Students draw or diagram the mental connection they make between the major concept and the other concepts they learned.
  • VoiceThread's Doodle Tool
  • Assignment (upload a photo/ file)
Audio/ Video-taped Protocols Students work through a problem-solving process, and it is captured to allow instructors to assess metacognition (learner's awareness of and control of thinking).
  • VoiceThread
  • Assignment (upload a photo/ file)
Directed Paraphrasing Students paraphrase part of a lesson for a specific audience, demonstrating an ability to translate specialized information into language the clients or customers can understand.
  • Canvas Discussions
  • VoiceThread
  • Google Slides





Techniques for Assessing Learner Attitudes, values, and Self-Awareness

Classroom Opinion Polls

Students indicate a degree of agreement or disagreement with a statement or prompt.

  • iClicker
  • Zoom Polls

Goal Ranking & Matching

Students list and prioritize 3 to 5 goals they have for their own learning in the course.
  • Journal
  • Canvas Discussions

Diagnostic Learning Logs

Students write to learn by identifying, diagnosing and prescribing solutions to their own learning problems.
  • Journal
  • Canvas Discussions





Techniques for Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction

Electronic Survey Feedback

Students respond to a question or short series of questions about the effectiveness of the course at key points in the course.
  • Google Forms
  • Canvas Quizzes

ERSQC2 (Recall, Summarize, Question, Connect & Comment)

Students write brief statements that recall, summarize, question, connect and comment on meaningful points from the previous class.
  • Canvas Discussions

Assignment/ Exam Assessments

Students respond to 2 or 3 open-ended questions about the value of an assignment/ exam to their learning.
  • Journal
  • Canvas Discussions


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bergquist, E., & Holbeck, R. (2014). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Conceptual Model for CATs in the Online Classroom. Journal of Instructional Research, 3, 3-7.

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2019). What makes for effective feedback: Staff and student perspectives.

Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 25-36. The K. Patricia Cross Academy. Techniques Video Library.

Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 2-19.

Theall, M. and Franklin J.L. (2010). Assessing Teaching Practices and Effectiveness for Formative Purposes. In: A Guide to Faculty Development. KJ Gillespie and DL Robertson (Eds). Jossey Bass: San Francisco, CA.

Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd. University of California San Diego. 50 CATS by Angelo and Cross.

Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. (2017) Formative and Summative Assessments.

How to cite this page:

UMass Amherst IDEAS Team. (2024, March). Formative Assessment Online: Guide Students to Success.