The role of short answer questions in developing higher-order thinking

Cheryl Chamberlain, Alison Button, Laura Dison, Stella Grenville, Elizabeth Delmont


The  Humanities Faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand has introduced a number of one-year foundation courses to provide support to students and to enable those from a disadvantaged educational system to enter the academic environment.  The focus in this paper is on the role of short answer questions in the assessment of higher order thinking.  Short answer questions have traditionally been thought to assess factual recall and lower levels of response. We argue that short answer questions have the potential to assess a range of competencies including higher order thinking.  We argue that short answer questions help to support student learning of disciplinary concepts and skills by breaking down and sequencing final summative assessment tasks into smaller manageable tasks.  We examine the relationship between higher order thinking and modes of assessment, and develop a taxonomy to show the relationship between task words and levels of intellectual performance. This may be used to align course assessment with learning outcomes and teaching practices.

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ISSN 2224-0012 (online); ISSN 0259-2312 (print)

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