Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are increasingly being offered as scalable ways to involve undergraduates in research. Yet few if any design features that make CUREs effective have been identified. We developed a 17-item survey instrument, the Laboratory Course Assessment Survey (LCAS), that measures students’ perceptions of three design features of biology lab courses: 1) collaboration, 2) discovery and relevance, and 3) iteration. We assessed the psychometric properties of the LCAS using established methods for instrument design and validation. We also assessed the ability of the LCAS to differentiate between CUREs and traditional laboratory courses, and found that the discovery and relevance and iteration scales differentiated between these groups. Our results indicate that the LCAS is suited for characterizing and comparing undergraduate biology lab courses and should be useful for determining the relative importance of the three design features for achieving student outcomes.