Inquiry-Based Learning: Cognitive Measures & Systems Support (Home)

Assessing Critical Thinking in a Student-Active Science Curriculum

Neil Stillings

Mary Anne Rea-Ramirez

Cognitive Science

Hampshire College


Laura Wenk

Natural Science

Hampshire College

This research was supported by a grant from the Learning and Intelligent Systems program of the National Science Foundation (Grant No. REC-9720363). It was also supported by grants from the NSF's Institution-Wide Reform Program and from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Barbara Reyes served as the undergraduate research assistant for this research.

1: Hypothesis

Inquiry-oriented science instruction is differentially associated with gains in reasoning skills involved in the conduct of scientific inquiry

2: Research Design


Within-Subject Assessment



3: Assessment Method

4: Results

Mean critical-thinking raw scores (Maximum score = 30)


Group Pre-test Post-test
Inquiry students 15.53 17.21
Control students 15.12 14.94
Trad. biol. class 14.73 15.45
Reform biol. class 15.61 14.38

5: Discussion

Detail 1:

Sample item: hypothesis generation


Two people are sitting in a room at equal distances from a bottle of perfume. After the bottle is opened, one person smells the perfume, and the other person does not.

A. Write a list of questions that occur to you about the statement (that is, the reasons one person smells the perfume and the other does not).

Example common answer: Does one person have difficulty smelling due to a cold?

Example from students who generate more questions: Is there a range of smell detection variability in humans that accounts for this incident?


B. Choose the question above that you think would yield the most fruitful, testable hypothesis, and write a well-formulated hypothesis that could actually be investigated.

Example answer with no hypothesis: Try it with other things that smell

Example answer that is a clear hypothesis: Person A can smell but person B cannot because of the direction of the wind in the room moving the smell away from person B. The wind is blowing in the direction of A

Detail 2:

Scoring rubric for example question