Testing for Depth of Understanding

Both constructed response and selected response items can be used to test levels of learning beyond basic recall of facts and definitions. In the case of constructed response items this is quite obvious; for example, in the case of short answer items that require students to generate detailed responses. However, selected response options can also be used to test students’ ability to demonstrate more complex learning. For example, selected response items may ask students to:

1.  Analyze phenomena

  • Ask questions that require students to break down material into its component parts and demonstrate understanding of the parts’ relationship; for example, describe different versions of a machine and ask students to select the version whose specific features would allow it to best perform a specific task.

2.  Apply principles to new situations

  • Present students with a specific example of something and ask them which general principle it represents.
  • Present students with a problem they have not encountered before and ask them to solve it or to identify the correct method needed to solve it.

3.   Challenge misconceptions

  • Ask multiple choice questions with distractors that address common mistakes or misconceptions, or use a true-false format to posit a commonly-held but incorrect belief.

4.      Interpret cause and effect relationships

  • Ask questions that require students to demonstrate understanding of why something happens as a result of something else.
  • Ask students to match effects to their causes.

5.      Interpret charts and graphs

  • Ask questions that require identification of patterns in or prediction of future outcomes based on data presented visually.

6.      Solve problems

  • Ask questions that require application of logic or knowledge of mathematical functions.

7.      Judge relevance of information

  • Ask students to identify the main point of a text.
  • Present students with a problem and ask them to identify, from a passage of text or from a list of sources, the information or source that is most or least relevant to solving it.

8.      Make inferences from given information

  • Ask students to read a passage or look at an image and the then identify a statement that could be inferred from it. 

  

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