I am asking this in regard to all levels of education, however, I am aware that this forum is primarily for higher education. I would like to know what elements of an answer are indicative of the level of understanding the student has of that question. The sophistication of their language? Length of their answer? Use of meta language? Succinctness?

Thanks in advance!

  • A mathematical based question may only need one number, so length is not relevant, accuracy may be more relevant... – Solar Mike May 12 '18 at 11:25
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    One would think that a teacher who himself had sufficent understanding of the given subject should be able to readily deduce the same from a student's answer, given the question was well chosen to allow such inference. – Karl May 12 '18 at 16:27
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    In a well-designed homework or exam problem, the instructor will have a clear idea about this. There's no a priori generality that would apply across the board. So this question is too broad for us to answer, and I'm voting to close. – aparente001 May 12 '18 at 19:49
  • You are of course correct, however, I am interested in understanding if it’s possible to determine a students comprehension of a question based on their answer, without any prior indication. – Harry Stuart May 12 '18 at 23:32
  • @HarryS: To understand a student’s comprehension, you read what the student wrote, and see if it correctly answers the question. Sophisticated language? Length? Meta language? No, it’s about content. – J.R. May 13 '18 at 2:15

You are barking up the wrong tree.

I can’t speak for all instructors and graders (and it wouldn’t surprise me if your question gets closed for that reason), but, when I’m grading essay questions, I want to know: Can the student answer the question clearly and in a way that demonstrates mastery over the material?

That being what I’m looking for, most of what you listed is smoke and mirrors.

  • Sophistication of the language? That means nothing if the answer isn’t accurate. And if your answer is way off, you’ll sound like a pompous ass.

  • Length of their answer? Not necessarily. I appreciate depth much more than length. If an answer is long because it shows a deep understanding, that’s fine. If it’s just repeating the same facts over and over again, that can get annoying.

  • Use of meta language? Ah, that old trick. Throw enough buzzwords at an answer and hope one of them matches what I’m looking for. (A student tried that on me one time, and I wrote in the margins of the exam: “Your jedi mind tricks do not work on me.”)

  • Succinctness? That’s probably the only one that you listed that has a shot at impressing me, but it had better be a very good answer if you’re not going to say much.

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    Hear, hear! For some of my assignments (e.g. in-class quizzes, some drafts), I have made it clear that I accept bullet points instead of more traditional writing, because students who have trouble with writing (students with disabilities, non-native speakers) can demonstrate their understanding better when they don't have the pressure of spelling and grammar. Sometimes later drafts, with the thesaurus thrown at them in pursuit of "sophisticated language," actually obscure the understanding that was originally demonstrated. – cactus_pardner May 13 '18 at 2:01

For basic sciences;

-Showing the way to reach the conclusion/answer, explanations of the steps and assumptions to use them.

-The reasons for choosing specific equations

These are the characteristics of the answers. In the question, not a class-similar problem should be seen, in that way, the memorization of the answer will suffice to reach the correct conclusion.

In chemistry, for instance, you show three different reactions in lectures. Then in the exam, you gave two compounds which you demand the synthesis of the latter from former using any chemical necessary (and actually requires students to use the lectured reactions before the exam). Almost none of the students who did not understand the properties of the reactions can answer such questions.

In short, the question is much more important to understand the comprehension level of the students than to their answer structure.

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