Assessing students frequently is the best way to really make sure your class understands. While tests or exams are often the norm when it comes to formal assessments, they can often be misleading. A student may score poorly on an exam for a myriad of reasons, none of which are content related. She might have overslept and rushed to class, or may be dealing with a family crisis that is keeping them preoccupied. Or, a student may not understand the wording of questions or might not read very well.  The point is, there are plenty of ways a student's performance on a formalised test may not accurately reflect their true comprehension, therefore, it's often a good idea to check their understanding more frequently in less formal ways.

Assess More Frequently, Less Formally

Before a student’s knowledge or assessments gets labeled as faulty, it may be beneficial to re-assess. Since retaking a long exam can be time consuming for both the teacher and student, it is often more effective and efficient to check students’ understanding on a frequent basis. Quick assessments can be designed to give you a snapshot of what the student knows without taking up too much time. You are then able to gauge if you can move on to another topic or if reteaching is necessary.

Here are 12 ways to quickly assess your students:

  1. Define the Terms: Ask your students to write or say a brief definition for key terms or vocabulary. Mix it up by first requiring students to write without use of notes or resources. Have a peer check the answer or let them use their notes to add more information.
  2. Illustrate the Concept: Sketch a simple picture, diagram or flowchart of the concept. This is a good tool for students who are visual learners. It will also challenge students who aren’t, which is a good thing! Once completed, have your students briefly explain their illustrations and why they included certain elements.
  3. "Dos and Don’ts": List three "Dos and Don’ts" of a concept. You can assign just "Dos" or just "Dont’s", or a mixture of the two. For example; Do preheat the oven before baking, Do measure ingredients carefully, Don’t undercook.
  4. Make a "T Chart": Have students create a chart in the shape of a T and list things that are understood on one side and things that are confusing on the other side. This is also a good tool to use as a pre-assessment and post-assessment, and shows you clearly topics that may need to be retaught or clarified. Students can “transfer” items from one side to the other as they master concepts. (This can also be used as an assignment - tell students to look up or find the answer to the items that are confusing.)
  5. One Sentence Summary: Write or say a summary of the topic in one sentence. This can be done to a peer who checks them or to you. Mix it up by requiring students to “tweet” using 140 characters or less. This forces them to be concise.
  6. List: Make a list of everything you know or have learned about a particular topic. This can be done individually or with a partner. A list like this can be added on to each day. This activity is also a good pre and post assessment. The before and after lists can be compared to show how much students have learned!
  7. Common Misunderstandings: List three common misconceptions about a given topic. Take it one step further by clarifying or disproving the misconceptions.
  8. Reteach (Teach a Peer): Explain a concept to a peer in ninety seconds. Mix it up by not allowing them to use certain phrases, which will force them to think of new terms or ways to explain the concept.
  9. Ask Three Questions: Write or ask three questions about a topic. This can be used in two ways- students can ask questions they don’t know the answer to, or ask questions and provide answers to the known questions. Questions can be traded among the students who then have to answer their peer’s.
  10. Compare and Contrast: Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast information between several topics. This can be partner work - have one person compare and another contrast.
  11. Justify: Justify your opinion or position with three examples. You can put a time limit on this to keep it from taking too long. Having a timeframe also forces your students to be concise.
  12. Critique: critique your work or a partner’s work. Mark areas that can be improved or revised. Keep this quick and simple by putting a time limit on it.

Simple assessments like these are powerful because they give you a pure glimpse of what your students know at that point in time, and allow you to change your teaching accordingly. Since they are usually unscheduled, students aren’t able to cram or study beforehand which provides another valuable data point on how your instruction is being received.

Another advantage to quick assessments is that they are easier to administer and grade, which takes the burden off of you!