The Collegiate Learning Assessment

Frequently Asked Questions for Students

  • Why did NIU conduct the CLA?
    NIU participates in an inniative called the Voluntary System of Accountability, a transparency initiative for public 4-year institutions to share information about their university and students in a common web template called The College Portrait.
  • Why were students asked to participate in the CLA?
    Each year, a sample of freshmen students and a sample of senior students was selected to participate with this university assessment initiative. Students were expected to participate in assessment activites whether part of their regular instruction within a degree program, or for the university as a whole. Please refer to the section of the Undergraduate Catalog titled Assessment at Northern Illinois University, located at the bottom of the Undergraduate Academic Programs page of the catalog.
  • When/where did students take the CLA?
    Students were tested during the fall and spring semesters for the 2012 and 2013 academic years. In order to accomodate every student, test sessions were made available mornings and afternoons. A select number of evening and Saturday sessions were also made available. Most took place in one of the ITS computer labs, though some colleges offered the use of their own computer labs. Students were asked to schedule a session that did not conflict with their class schedules. 
  • What were students asked to do on the CLA?
    When students began the CLA, each was randomly assigned to one of the following:
    • Performance Task (up to 90 min):
      Form responses to several open-ended questions about a hypothetical scenario using a given set of evidentiary documents.
    • Writing Task (two parts, up to 75 min. combined):
      • Make-an-Argument asks you to take and justify a position on an issue
      • Critique-an-Argument asks you to evaluate the reasoning of another's argument
  • What did they bring to the test session?
    Students were asked to provide their NIU One Card for proof of ID. They were provided with scratch paper and a pencil.
  • Was there a fee associated with this assessment?
    The fees associated with CLA were covered by the University and never by the student.
  • How did students benefit from taking the CLA?
    Each student received an individualized score report, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing and comparing their performance to other NIU students and to students across the country. Students were free to highlight their participation and results on a resume or vita. The tasks and skills associated with CLA are real-world oriented and will benefit students in continued education or as they entered the workforce. If students plan to continue their education, the CLA may help them prepare for the kind of higher-order thinking skills that are assessed on the GRE. Also, by participating in a process that will help determine the value-added by NIU, these students helped to shape the perception of what it means to have an NIU degree.
  • When did students receive their scores for CLA?
    Scores were sent electronically in the semester following the one in which students tested. Students who would like additional on-campus support regarding their performance should see the Student Resources section
  • Did students receive a grade for CLA?
    Individual results on the CLA were returned to students in the semester following their participation. Thus, performance on the CLA was not considered in their overall course grades.
  • Who can I contact for more information?
    Please visit the CLA website for more information at
  • You may also contact the NIU Office of Assessment Services at 815-753-1197 or via e-mail @