Student perceptions of pre-assessments: “It’s basically just guessing anyways.”

Scott E. Allen, Anna McLean Phillips, Rene F. Kizilcec

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference PaperResearchpeer-review


Pre-assessments are a popular tool among researchers and instructors in higher education, but they may pose risks to students, instructors, and researchers that are largely unexplored. To investigate potential risks, we conducted ten semi-structured interviews with college students about their experiences taking pre-assessments. Students unanimously found pre-assessments to be non-threatening and their performance on them to be inconsequential, because they did not interpret them as a predictor of success or indicator of their inherent ability. Instead, students attributed their pre-assessment performance to having previously taken a relevant course with similar assessment items. As a result, half of the students were not motivated at all to put effort into taking the pre-assessment, especially for difficult items. Students believed that pre-assessments are intended to inform the instructor in making tailored course revisions to meet student needs. They valued pre-assessments more if they believed that the instructor uses the pre-assessment results to make course revisions, but half of the students doubted that their instructor would do so. Taken together, our findings suggest that pre-assessments do not pose a direct risk to students, but they may indirectly affect students’ learning experience or relationship with the instructor if the use of pre-assessments undermines the instructor’s credibility. Moreover, students’ lack of motivation to complete pre-assessments can render them an inaccurate measure for instructors and researchers. We therefore encourage instructors and researchers to clearly communicate the specific uses of pre-assessments to students before assigning them.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhysics Education Research Conference Proceedings
EditorsMichael B. Bennett, Brian W. Frank, Rebecca E. Vieyra
Place of PublicationUSA
PublisherAmerican Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9780917853487
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes
EventPhysics Education Research Conference, 2021: Making Physics More Inclusive and Eliminating Exclusionary Practices in Physics - Virtual, Online, United States of America
Duration: 4 Aug 20215 Aug 2021

Publication series

NamePhysics Education Research Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1539-9028
ISSN (Electronic)2377-2379


ConferencePhysics Education Research Conference, 2021
Abbreviated titlePERC 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America
Internet address

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