Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) Overview


The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) is comprised of three types of prompts within two types of tasks: the Performance Task and the Analytic Writing Task. The Analytic Writing Task includes a pair of prompts called Make-an-Argument and Critique-an-Argument. Students are asked to complete all three prompts.

The CLA uses direct measures of skills in which students perform cognitively demanding tasks from which quality of response is scored. All CLA measures are administered online and contain open-ended prompts that require constructed responses. There are no multiple-choice questions.

Performance Task

Each Performance Task requires students to use an integrated set of critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and written communication skills to answer several open-ended questions about a hypothetical but realistic situation. In addition to directions and questions, each Performance Task also has its own document library that includes a range of information sources, such as letters, memos, summaries of research reports, newspaper articles, maps, photographs, diagrams, tables, charts, and interview notes or transcripts. Students are instructed to use these materials in preparing their answers to the Performance Task’s questions within the allotted 90 minutes.

The first portion of each Performance Task contains general instructions and introductory material. The student is then presented with a split screen. On the right side of the screen is a list of the materials in the Document Library. The student selects a particular document to view by using a pull-down menu. On the left side of the screen are a question and a response box. There is no limit on how much a student can type. Upon completing a question, students then select the next question in the queue.

No two Performance Tasks assess the exact same combination of skills. Some ask students to identify and then compare and contrast the strengths and limitations of alternative hypotheses, points of view, courses of action, etc. To perform these and other tasks, students may have to weigh different types of evidence, evaluate the credibility of various documents, spot possible bias, and identify questionable or critical assumptions.

Performance Tasks also may ask students to suggest or select a course of action to resolve conflicting or competing strategies and then provide a rationale for that decision, including why it is likely to be better than one or more other approaches. For example, students may be asked to anticipate potential difficulties or hazards that are associated with different ways of dealing with a problem, including the likely short- and long-term consequences and implications of these strategies. Student may then be asked to suggest and defend one or more of these approaches. Alternatively, students may be asked to review a collection of materials or a set of options, analyze and organize them on multiple dimensions, and then defend that organization.

Performance Tasks often require students to marshal evidence from different sources: distinguish rational from emotional arguments and fact from opinion; understand data in tables and figures; deal with inadequate, ambiguous, and/or conflicting information; spot deception and holes in the arguments made by others; recognize information that is and is not relevant to the task at hand; identify additional information that would help to resolve issues; and weigh, organize, and synthesize information from several sources.

Analytic Writing Task

Students write answers to two types of essay prompts, namely: a Make-an-Argument question that asks them to support or reject a position on some issue; and a Critique-an-Argument question that asks them to evaluate the validity of an argument made by someone else. Both of these tasks measure a student’s skill in articulating complex ideas, examining claims and evidence, supporting ideas with relevant reasons and examples, sustaining a coherent discussion, and using standard written English.


A Make-an-Argument prompt typically presents an opinion on some issue and asks students to write, in 45 minutes, a persuasive, analytic essay to support a position on the issue. Key elements include: establishing a thesis or a position on an issue; maintaining the thesis throughout the essay; supporting the thesis with relevant and persuasive examples (e.g., from personal experience, history, art, literature, pop culture, or current events); anticipating and countering opposing arguments to the position, fully developing ideas, examples, and arguments; crafting an overall response that generates interest, provokes thought, and persuades the reader; organizing the structure of the essay (e.g., paragraphing, ordering of ideas and sentences within paragraphs); employing transitions and varied sentence structure to maintain the flow of the argument; and utilizing sophisticated grammar and vocabulary.


A Critique-an-Argument prompt asks student, in 30 minutes, to critique an argument by discussing how well reasoned they find it to be (rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing with the position presented). Key elements of the essay include: identifying a variety of logical flaws or fallacies in a specific argument; explaining how or why the logical flaws affect the conclusions in that argument; and presenting a critique in a written response that is a grammatically correct, organized, well-developed, logically sound, and neutral in tone.