Authentic Assessment Toolbox
created by Jon Mueller

What is Authentic Assessment? Why Do It? How Do You Do It?











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Assessing More Than Facts

As previously mentioned, a multiple-choice test can be an effective way to assess knowledge of facts, processes and procedures. However, your standards will often expect students to do more than just know facts. You want them to be able comprehend, apply and analyze the concepts you are teaching. With some more thought, you can design multiple-choice items to assess these higher objectives in Bloom's Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956).

One of the best ways to move from knowledge items to comprehension, application and analysis items is to avoid questions, statements or examples used in class or readings for the class. If students can recognize something mentioned in class then they can answer the question correctly simply by memorizing such statements, facts or examples.

Comprehension Items

For example, comprehension can be assessed by asking students to recognize "new" statements as consistent or inconsistent with a principle or rule or idea.

For example, the stem of an item could ask:

Which of the following statements is an example of a democratic political belief?

The four statements listed as alternatives should not be statements mentioned in class or the text so that students truly have to understand what a democratic political belief is to recognize the correct one. It is appropriate (in fact, desirable) to teach to this type of test item by having students practice identifying such statements.

Similarly, a "new" example can be presented in which students must recognize some particular concept.

Although Jason did not like to see the American flag burned, he did not think people should be arrested for such an act of expression. Jason's opinion could be characterized as a

a. democratic political belief

Such an approach can be taken to change the following "knowledge" item into a "comprehension/application" item.


The first stage of alcoholism is characterized by

a. malnutrition
b. addiction to alcohol
c. rationalization of drinking behavior*
d. reverse alcohol tolerance

Susan believes her drinking behavior will lessen once she finishes a big project. Susan's explanation is particularly representative of the

a. first stage of alcoholism*
b. second stage of alcoholism
c. third stage of alcoholism
d. fourth stage of alcoholism

Answering the first form of the question correctly ("c") requires that students have memorized or can recognize the characteristics of the first stage. To require that students actually comprehend what those characteristics mean, the item can use an example such as the second question listed.

Application Items

Examples are also effective ways to test students' ability to apply concepts. An information literacy assessment might ask

The topic you were given in English is "compare and contrast the roles of Katharina in Taming of the Shrew with Katherine in Love's Labour's Lost both by William Shakespeare." How would you attack this problem?

Four search/research strategies could be listed from which to choose. Students would be applying their knowledge of good strategies to the example by selecting the best strategy.

Or, another application example could be

A researcher wants to determine if a moderate exercise program could help lower blood pressure in people suffering from high blood pressure. However, the researcher is concerned that subjects' blood pressure might just naturally lessen over time and, consequently, she would not be able to tell if it was the result of the exercise program or not. To more accurately determine if the exercise program and not just time, is contributing to a reduction in blood pressure, the researcher should

a. establish a control group*
b. extend the exercise program for a longer period of time
c. periodically check to see if the subjects are following the exercise program
d. compare the subjects to people without high blood pressure at the end of the study

Analysis Items

Examples can also be used to ask students to interpret or analyze material in multiple-choice items. Students can be asked to interpret lines of poetry, experimental data or business decisions.

Additionally, diagrams, graphs and tables can serve as good sources for analytical questions. Students can be asked to interpret information presented in such sources or about possible conclusions drawn from them. For example, students could be presented with the following question.

The figure below illustrates the number of deaths in the Chicagoland area from heart attacks that occurred during snow removal or non-removal activity in the three-day period from December 14-16, 2000.

A correct conclusion that could be drawn from the above graph is

a. It was more dangerous to shovel snow than to use a snowblower
b. It was less dangerous to engage in snow removal activity than not to engage in snow removal activity
c. More deaths were related to non-snow removal activities than to snow removal activities*
d. People with heart conditions should purchase a snowblower

In summary, even the most sophisticated sounding items just become tests of knowledge if students can recognize terms or statements heard in class or read in the text and answer the question correctly. Understanding is not required to answer such items, just a good memory. Thus, to effectively assess comprehension, application and analysis, items should present concepts or ideas in novel language or new examples that requires students to find the meaning in the statements or questions, and asks them to apply or analyze the concepts or ideas in a meaningful way.



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Copyright 2018, Jon Mueller. Professor of Psychology, North Central College, Naperville, IL. Comments, questions or suggestions about this website should be sent to the author, Jon Mueller, at