Students may nod along during lecture, but is the information really getting through? The next time you’re unsure, considering using a ConceptTest, a quick and efficient strategy to gauge and address student comprehension mid-lecture.

Developed by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur, ConcepTests allow instructors to nimbly and proactively address gaps in student comprehension without engaging in time-consuming catch-up sessions or changes to course structure. ConcepTests take the form of multiple-choice questions testing the conceptual knowledge and application—not factual recall—of a subject, which students answer through a show of hands hand or a clicker.

Carnegie Mellon University provides the following examples of conceptual questions:

  • Which of the following best describes…
  • If the value of X is changed to…
  • Which of the following is another example of…
  • What would happen if…

Based on the responses, instructors are able to adjust their lectures in real-time by dedicating more or less time to particular subject.

ConcepTests also provide opportunities for peer instruction to take place in smaller lectures or classrooms. Once an entire class responds to a question, group them by answer and have them explain why their answer is correct to an opposing group. Afterwards, have the whole class vote again and see how the responses change.

While only capable of providing a broad snapshot of classroom understanding, ConcepTests are useful and efficient tools to gauge and address student understanding. The next time you are unsure of your students comprehension, take the time to perform this quick diagnostic.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.