Crafting Effective Assessment Questions to Measure Application and Consolidation of Knowledge

Assessment is a critical component of the education process, serving as a tool to gauge students' understanding of subject matter. However, not all assessment questions are created equal. To truly evaluate a student's grasp of a subject, it is crucial to design assessment questions that test not only their knowledge but also their ability to apply that knowledge to real-world scenarios as well as hone critical thinking and analysis skills.

Understanding the Depth of Learning

To create effective assessment questions, it is essential to understand the different levels of learning. Bloom's Taxonomy is a valuable reference in this regard. Bloom's Taxonomy categorises learning into six levels, from lower-order thinking skills, such as remembering and understanding, to higher-order thinking skills, including application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation [1].

The use of basic fact recall, for example, has it’s place in being able to check quickly whether students have retained the knowledge given during previous learning experiences, however, this does not indicate if a student can apply that knowledge in even the simplest of contexts.

Obviously, when designing assessment questions based on higher order thinking skills, it is important to understand the current working level of your students, and to personalise assessment questions based on this, in order to extend their thinking, without overwhelming them.

Testing Application of Knowledge

Assessment questions that test the application of knowledge require students to take what they've learned and use it in new and unfamiliar situations or contexts. These questions challenge students to demonstrate their understanding by solving problems, making connections, or offering practical solutions. Here's how you can create application-focused questions:

  1. Scenario-Based Questions: Present students with real-life scenarios and ask them to apply their knowledge to solve problems or make decisions.
  2. Case Studies: Challenge students to analyse complex cases or scenarios, requiring them to apply their understanding to multifaceted situations [2].

In essence, these types of questions are worth more marks and will allow for connectives such as ‘because’, ‘therefore’, ‘as a result’, ‘due to’ etc. They will include some form of explanation or analysis, immediately raising the order of thinking required to answer them.

Testing Consolidation of Knowledge

Consolidation of knowledge is about ensuring that students can retain and connect information over time. Assessing consolidation is particularly important in long-term retention of knowledge. To craft such questions:

  1. Cumulative Assessments: Implement cumulative assessments that draw on knowledge from various points in the course. This ensures students have not only learned but also retained and can apply earlier material.
  2. Interdisciplinary Connections: Design questions that require students to draw connections between the current subject matter and previous topics or other subjects, promoting knowledge integration [3].

Consolidation of knowledge can also be done through the process of ‘Interleaving’, and this practice can be applied to assessment questions as well as normal learning and revision opportunities. By creating assessment questions that ‘jump’ from one topic to another, under the same context, students are required to not only draw connections between topics, the use of interleaving has been shown to promote the categorisation of knowledge by students, so that both recall and application of information are more accurate [4].

Balancing Assessment Types

To effectively evaluate application and consolidation of knowledge, it's essential to strike a balance between different assessment types. To do this, it is important to utilise a mix of assessment methods, including essays, problem-solving tasks, case studies, and practical assessments. This will help to capture various aspects of application and consolidation [5].

The variety in assessment types can be seen throughout all exam papers by the major UK exam boards, and in order to fully prepare students for the types of assessment they are going to meet in their formal examinations, it is important to replicate this pattern as far as possible, within low-medium stakes assessments.

Feedback and Formative Assessment

Providing timely and constructive feedback is crucial in helping students improve their ability to apply and consolidate knowledge. Formative assessments, integrated throughout the coverage of the curriculum, can guide students' understanding and skill development [6].

Creating assessment questions that effectively measure the application and consolidation of knowledge is an art that requires a deep understanding of pedagogy and learning theory. Referencing educational research and scientific publications can help guide educators in designing assessments that truly evaluate students' ability to apply and retain knowledge. In doing so, we empower learners to not only grasp content but also utilize and integrate it into their intellectual toolkit, preparing them for real-world challenges.

[1] Reference: Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon.

[2] Reference: Herreid, C. F., & Schiller, N. A. (2013). Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom. Journal of College Science Teaching, 42(5), 62-66.

[3] Verkoeijen, P. P., Rikers, R. M., & Schmidt, H. G. (2005). Limitations in the application of context in medical education. Medical Education, 39(10), 1006-1012.

[4] Reference: Verkoeijen, P. P., Rikers, R. M., & Schmidt, H. G. (2005). Limitations in the application of context in medical education. Medical Education, 39(10), 1006-1012.

[5] Reference: Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

[6] Reference: Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

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