Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Prior Knowledge Self-Assessments

Prior knowledge self-assessments ask students to reflect and comment on their level of knowledge and skill across a range of items. Questions can focus on knowledge, skills, or experiences that:
  • you assume students have acquired and are prerequisites to your course
  • you believe are valuable but not essential to the course
  • you plan to address in the course

The feedback from this assessment can help you calibrate your course appropriately or direct students to supplemental materials that can help them address weaknesses in their existing skills or knowledge.

The advantage of a self-assessment is that it is relatively easy to construct and score. The potential disadvantage of this method is that students may not be able to accurately assess their abilities. However, accuracy improves when the response options clearly differentiate both types and levels of knowledge.

Writing Appropriate Questions for Self-Assessments

Writing appropriate questions for prior knowledge self-assessments can seem daunting at first. Identifying specific terms, concepts, or applications of skills to ask about will help you write effective questions.

Examples of questions with possible closed responses:

How familiar are you with "Karnaugh maps"?

  1. I have never heard of them or I have heard of them but don't know what they are.
  2. I have some idea what they are, but don't know when or how to use them.
  3. I have a clear idea what they are, but haven't used them.
  4. I can explain what they are and what they do, and I have used them.

Have you designed or built a digital logic circuit?

  1. I have neither designed nor built one.
  2. I have designed one, but not built one.
  3. I have built one, but not designed one.
  4. I have both designed and built one.

How familiar are you with a "t-test"?

  1. I have never heard of it.
  2. I have heard of it, but don't know what it is.
  3. I have some idea of what it is, but it’s not very clear.
  4. I know what it is and could explain what it's used for.
  5. I know what it is and when to use it, and I could use it to analyze data.

How familiar are you with Photoshop?

  1. I have never used it or I tried using it but couldn't do anything with it.
  2. I can do simple edits using preset options to manipulate single images (e.g., standard color, orientation and size manipulations).
  3. I can manipulate multiple images using preset editing features to create desired effects.
  4. I can easily use precision editing tools to manipulate multiple images for professional quality output.

For each of the following Shakespearean plays, place a check mark in the cell if it describes your experience.

Play Have Read it Have seen a live performance Have seen a TV or movie production Have written a college-level paper on it
King Lear
Henry IV

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