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Assessing Students' Cognitive Performance

Updated on September 28, 2017
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Jacqueline Williamson graduated with a BBA in Personnel Admin., an MPA in HR Management and an MS in Education. Jacqueline is also a teacher


This article is designed to help the instructor gain the skills needed:

1. To construct reliable, valid, and usable assessment items that will measure your students’ achievement of the cognitive student performance objectives that make up your program

2. To put those items together into an effective measuring device

3. To create an examining environment that will allow students to demonstrate their knowledge.

By assessing student knowledge regularly, you can keep them informed concerning their progress in learning the knowledge required for their later career or occupation. You can also determine their readiness to go on to subsequent learning activities. An Assessment can also provide you with valuable information regarding the effectiveness of your own teaching, whether your students are learning, or whether you need to change your teaching strategies.

Student Cognitive Performance Assessment

Cognitive objectives at the lowest level require students to recognize or recall correct facts, data, or information. Such objectives usually call for students to list, define, identify items, or in some other way recognize or recall a particular piece or body of information.

Student performance objectives at the higher levels in the cognitive domain require students to do more than simply recognize or recall factual information correctly. They also require students to use that information in some way. Objectives at the second level of the cognitive domain may call for students to summarize, interpret, translate, or paraphrase facts, data, or information.

Purpose of Assessment

Student readiness: you can use this information to determine whether your students are ready for a particular learning activity. Often, students must know one thing before they proceed to another activity. Example, before a student takes Advance Mathematics, he/she must take Algebra or Basic Mathematics.

Instructional improvement: you can also use the information you get through assessing student cognitive performance to improve your instruction. Finding out that the students have not learned what you were teaching can alert you to possible weaknesses in your instruction.

Information about student progress: students need to know how they are progressing in your program. They will want to know if they are successfully acquiring the technical knowledge they will need on the job. Providing feedback concerning their cognitive performance can help them identify their own weaknesses so that they can work more successfully in acquiring needed knowledge. Positive feedback on the progress they are making can help to motivate them to progress further.

Assessment Techniques

There are a number of different ways to assess student cognitive performance. In some situations, you might use very informal means to do the job. You might give a short oral quiz, requiring students to provide brief written answers that you can quickly check, during class, before they move into the laboratory. A final exam, on the other hand, would be a formal written test.

Some kinds of cognitive test items are called objective by testing experts because scoring them is almost entirely an objective process. The following types of items are considered to be objective:

  • Multiple choice
  • Matching
  • Completion
  • True/false

Other kinds of test items are called subjective because they do require the use of judgment and interpretation in scoring answers:

  • Essay
  • Oral

Identifying A Good Assessment Tool

In theory, a good test must have the following characteristics.

o The assessment tool must be valid. Validity is the extent to which a test measures what it is supposed to measure. To the extent that a test measures what it is supposed to, it is valid.

o The assessment tool should be reliable. Reliability is the consistency with which a test measures achievement.

o The assessment tool should be usable.

In practice, a good assessment tool should be based on student performance objectives and must have the following characteristics.

o The tool should differentiate. If the test measures what it is supposed to measure, it should differentiate between students who know the material being tested and those who don’t.

o Minimize the effects of communication skills. A test becomes less valid if it requires students to use communication skills they don’t have.

o Provide clear, full, and simple directions. Difficult, complicated, incomplete directions can also reduce the validity and reliability of the test because of the effects of communication skills.

o Don’t use too many different kinds of items.

o The tool should be just the right length.

o Watch for the guessing factor. There is always the possibility that a student could take a blind guess at any test item and get the right answer out of thin air. If a multiple-choice item has four choices, students have a 25 percent chance of getting the correct answer without reading the item. Students have a 50 - 50 chance on true-false items which only offer two choices.

o Make good copies for everyone.

o Create a favorable administrating environment. The physical environment in the classroom or lab should allow students to concentrate on taking the test. The room should be reasonably quiet and free from distractions. The temperature should be comfortable, and lighting should be adequate. Ventilation should be sufficient to keep the air in the room fresh.

o Plan the tool carefully. A major factor affecting the validity of a test is how comprehensively it samples students’ knowledge. Careful planning can help the instructor develop tests that are comprehensive samples of his/her students’ knowledge.


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