Testing on What You Teach

By Peter Connor

Developing the abilities of students to reason both inductively and deductively, and to infer probable conclusions from given data, are primary higher-order critical thinking goals behind any pedagogical effort. It is the desired learning outcome instructors strive for, and what is being assessed in a quantitative test.

Students should be, and need to be, challenged. Hard questions should be asked; difficult problems posed. That a test is going to be difficult and require "critical" thinking should come as no surprise. Rather, it should be expected.

That being said, your students expecting to be tested fairly should come as no surprise either. They must be both forewarned as to your expectations as well as forearmed to meet them. Richard M. Felder, professor emeritus of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, suggests:

The way to equip students to solve open-ended...problems that call for critical or creative thinking is to work out several such problems in class, then put several more on successive homework assignments and provide constructive feedback, and then put similar problems on tests (Felder, 2002, para. 4).

Felder’s solution has four parts:

  1. Working through problems in class that require "critical" thinking to arrive at solutions. In such classroom activities, instructors model higher-order thinking skills necessary for problem-solving.
  2. Assigning homework that incorporates similar problems, challenging students to imitate, practice and master those previously modeled higher-order thinking skills.
  3. Providing constructive feedback on completed assignment provides secondary, one-on-one teaching moments for individualized attention.
  4. Comprehensive testing wherein students display their level of mastery and show that they’ve developed the "critical" thinking skills necessary for meeting the challenge; where they prove that they "get it."

The main objective in designing quantitative tests is to fit the questions and problems within the scope of knowledge and the skill-sets that students have acquired—or should have acquired—at the point of being tested. This includes what’s being taught in the current class curriculum as well as the cumulative background knowledge and applicable skills that should have been acquired in prerequisite course work.



Felder, R. M. (2002). Designing tests to maximize learning. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education & Practice, 128 (1), 1-3. Retrieved June 19, 2007, from http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/ public/Papers/TestingTips.htm


Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor