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Indirect assessment of practical science skills: Development and application of a taxonomy of written questions about practical work

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Wilson, Frances 
Shaw, Stuart 
Wade, Neil 
Hughes, Sarah 
Mattey, Sarah 


Practical work is central to science education and is used not only to support the development of conceptual knowledge, but to enable students to develop a wide range of skills, including data handling, experimental design and equipment manipulation. Practical work may be assessed using many different forms of assessment, including coursework projects, practical exams, and written questions in exams. Different forms of assessment may assess different aspects of this complex domain. As such, it is important to establish a clear understanding of the skills and knowledge which are assessed by each form of assessment. This article describes a study in which the development of a taxonomy is first described, then its application in evaluating current science qualifications explored. A taxonomy of practical science skills on questions about practical science has the potential to allow evaluation and monitoring of practical science questions for awarding organisations as it allows for comparisons of skills assessed over time, between papers, and between subjects. Cambridge Assessment International Education assessments include written practical science questions (as an alternative to practical exams) and so an evaluation as to how the skills assessed have changed over time, and how they vary between subjects, would provide additional information on the performance of the assessments. OCR assessments of written practical science were introduced in 2016 as a result of reforms in the qualifications. Therefore, evaluating whether the assessments are similar to Sample Assessment Materials, and how subjects compare to one another in terms of the skills assessed, would aid the meeting of regulatory requirements to evaluate and monitor the new assessments.



Assessment design, Evaluation of assessment

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Research Matters

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Research Division, Cambridge University Press & Assessment

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