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Online Assessment Types Defined: Categorization Questions

Photo of hand holding orange chalking drawing on chalkboard. Drawing is of disorganized shapes with an arrow pointing to the same shapes sorted.

Creating courseware and content that is impactful is one of the everyday challenges of content creators, educators and editors in the publishing world. Adding assessment activities within an ebook, textbook or lesson plan helps educators gauge the level of understanding of the learners and their overall perception of the content. 

In previous posts, we’ve discussed matching questions and multiple-choice questions. Today we’re going to talk about categorization: what it is, and how we can all benefit from practicing it.

Pedagogical Intent

As you might have guessed, categorization questions involve taking presented material and sorting it into appropriate categories. Bloom’s Taxonomy links “categorize” with its fourth level of critical thinking skill: Analysis. This is something we’re taught fairly early in life. Toddlers are shown how to sort things based on shape, size, and color. As we grow up, we have to be able go beyond identifying basics, for example breaking things down to their pieces, sorting out what’s true and untrue, what’s important and what can be ignored.

In fact, in the Cognitive Domain handbook, Dr. Bloom wrote,

“Skill in analysis may be found as an objective of any field of study. [Teachers] wish, for example, to develop in students the ability to distinguish fact from hypothesis in a communication, to identify conclusions and supporting statements, to identify relevant from extraneous material, to note how one idea relates to another, to see what unstated assumptions are involved in what is said…”

So how does categorizing assist in learning analysis?

Categorizing Categorization

On a basic level, categorization questions can be structured as a set of choices relating to a subject. Depending on your course material, that subject could include a picture, a gif, a video clip, a portion of text, or other additional material. A number of correct options would categorize that subject related to basic observations (“Which animals live on farms?”), or comparisons (“Which positive and negative qualities does Tom the cat have in common with Wile E. Coyote?”), or even complex examination (“Which theme does Macbeth's final speech capture?”). Dr. Bloom listed potential advanced applications, however.

Breadth and Depth

If used properly, categorization questions present a unique opportunity to get into the minds of our students. It’s been said that “recall is not knowledge.” More than regurgitating  information back to us, our students ought to be able to comprehend, reason, explain and expand on what they have learned. The ability to ask open questions that don’t necessarily have, or need, answers defined as "correct" or "incorrect," but which measure the student’s understanding and viewpoint, allow educators to assess their students in those ways more effectively than other test methods allow.

Concerning Cunning Categorizing

With the potential, flexibility, and application provided by this sort of question, there are a few things instructors want to remain mindful of:

  1. Design: Because of how categorization and other analysis assessments can be structured, it’s easy for the questions to resemble multiple choice or matching questions. It may even cause them to be inadvertently structured the same way. Care should be taken in their design, therefore, and clear instruction for each question should be given in order to prevent any potential confusion.
  2. Clear Instruction:  Even though open questions are an excellent way to assess progress, they shouldn’t be overly broad. If they are, they risk being unclear and leaving students unsure of how to provide appropriate answers.
  3. Theme: If choices are provided, keep all of them related to the theme, even the ones that aren’t correct. Remember that part of the goal is to help the students learn to sort between what is important information and what isn’t.
  4. Flexibility: Be flexible with your approach. Some students may struggle with this type of question and need additional help. Be patient and clear.

Adding categorization questions as a tool in your lab is a simple process with MyEcontentFactory. With it, you’re able to set questions as broad or narrow as needed, have the option of adding extra material, and even tailor changes to individual students.


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