Creative Alternatives

Utilizing Creative Alternatives in Traditional Written Assessments

When developing assessments, instructors must ensure that assessment items provide an appropriate, accurate measure of course-specific learning objectives.  With this consideration in mind, assessments are limited only by the creativity, flexibility, and insight of the instructor.  While people are most familiar with standard true-false, multiple-choice, matching, short answer, and essay questions, there are many variations to these traditional measures as well as other unique, original written assessment item options.  The following ideas are provided as starting points to stimulate diversity and ingenuity in the development of written assessment items.  Instructors are encouraged to brainstorm assessment items that are most effective in measuring their own learning goals.

Case Study

A single, well-written example of a specific event or case study can provide material for a variety of follow-up questions.  An instructor can present a reading passage, then provide a series of related questions that target a range of learning objectives.  This type of case study assessment promotes the active application and analysis of novel information based on relevant course concepts.

Incomplete Scenario

Using an incomplete scenario, instructors can require students to identify missing components or to highlight inaccurate information.  This technique is especially useful for presenting familiar information in a unique or novel format.  The value of the incomplete scenario item is that students are prevented from relying on rote memorization and must demonstrate more advanced comprehension to correctly answer the item.

Creative Response

Rather than rely on a typical selected or supply response item, instructors can require students to generate a creative response.  Effective creative response items may ask students to diagram patterns, draw visual representations, map a concept sequence, chart future directions, or design a theory blueprint.  Creative response items promote integration of related information while allowing students to freedom to express their knowledge in a unique format.

Integrated Matching

Integrated matching items rely on a combination of traditional matching and multiple-choice questions.  Rather than using a short descriptive premise followed by a traditional one-word response, integrated matching questions utilize longer sentence introductions followed by a series of descriptive consequences or outcomes.  Students are then required to read a theoretical position or conceptual example and identify the logical outcome or conclusion. Integrated matching items have the benefit of promoting comparative understanding while analyzing the potential consequences of related concepts.


One of the downsides of a traditional multiple-choice item is that students may employ an elimination process to determine the correct answer without having a complete understanding of the concept in question.  In order to circumvent this elimination tactic, multiple-selection questions utilize the same format at multiple-choice questions but require students to select ALL correct response options.  The multiple-selection approach is more cognitively demanding and may provide a more accurate assessment of student understanding, as students are required to independently deal with the validity of each response option.

Visual Images

With the quality of modern photocopies as well as the availability of online digital images, instructors are no longer limited to using only written text in classroom assessments.  Instructors can enhance the applicability and relevance of written assessments by including pictures and graphics.  These images may be used as either a question stimulus or a response option depending on the specific learning objectives of the assessment.  The integration of images has the advantages of tapping visual representations of knowledge and promoting a more diverse understanding of target concepts.

Video or Audio Stimuli

Traditional written assessments may be paired with video or audio stimuli to produce a more realistic assessment of learning objectives.  To be most effective with this approach, instructors are encouraged to provide students with written target questions, then show a video or present audio material to the entire group, then allow students time to complete the written assessment.  By allowing students to view assessment questions prior to presentation of the video/audio, they have an opportunity to gauge their attention and make relevant notes during the video/audio presentation.  This type of video/audio assessment is particularly useful for measuring students' ability to apply course concepts and theories to real-life examples.

Current Event Analysis

Rather than create hypothetical examples to assess students' mastery of key concepts and theories, utilize current events from the popular media.  Generally, short summaries of current events are available online via reputable news links.  These short summaries can then be integrated into written assessments to promote students' application and evaluation of theory to practice.  In addition to assessing students' mastery of relevant course information, the integration of current events helps to promote retention of key material.

Quality online news sources:


ABC News


Fox News

CBS News

New York Times

NPR News



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