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.
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:
of the following statements is an example of a democratic political
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.
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
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
b. addiction to alcohol
c. rationalization of drinking behavior*
d. reverse alcohol tolerance
her drinking behavior will lessen once she finishes a big project.
Susan's explanation is particularly representative of the
a. first stage
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.
Examples are also effective ways to test students' ability to apply concepts.
An information literacy assessment might ask
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
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
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
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
d. compare the subjects to people without high blood pressure
at the end of the study
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.
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.
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.