Examination: Quantitative Thinking Question

This page authored by Erik Larson, Macalester College
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In this 100-level Sociology / Legal Studies course, students learn quantitative thinking skills (as defined by Macalester's Quantitative Thinking General Education Requirement). In both readings and during class, we discuss questions about describing the world quantitatively, evaluating data quality, comparing rates, using modeling to test theory, and understanding causation. In previous offerings of the course, despite coverage of each of these topics, student course evaluation items showed only minimal appreciation of the range of quantitative thinking (particularly as it related to being able to assess / make arguments). As a result, I decided to incorporate an examination for this offering of the course that included items specifically targeted to the intersection of the course content and Macalester's General Education Requirement goals.

Learning Goals

  • Articulating a clear thesis or central claim
  • Evaluating and selecting compelling quantitative evidence
  • Recognizing assumptions and using sound logic
  • Writing effectively

Context for Use

As an introductory sociology course focused on criminology and social control, the course intends to provide students with a foundational exposure to the theoretical and methodological diversity in the social sciences as well as information about contemporary developments in criminal justice and formal social control (with particular emphasis on the United States and the connections between the criminal justice system and inequalities).

Description and Teaching Materials

In addition to the quantitative thinking skills in the course, I have students complete weekly writing assignments for one of the assigned readings. These "Critical Summaries" ask students to present the main argument of the author(s) of the reading as well as (a) connect this argument to some other course content, (b) identify an implication of the argument, and (c) pose a question for further consideration. (The Critical Summary assignment adapts the AQCI: Argument, Question, Connection, Implication assignment from Michael Stewart's Central European University course "Anthropological Approaches to Ethnicity, Racism and Nationalism".)
Critical Summary assignment description (Microsoft Word 23kB Jan13 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I use the weekly writing exercises to provide feedback to students. I also have students complete data analysis exercises.


I used two types of assessment - both the examination question(s) and indirect assessment with an adapted version of the State Your Case! questionnaire.
  • Attitude survey
  • Intended Learning Outcomes questionnaire
  • Test, quiz, or examination sections

References and Resources

Student Learning Questionnaire (Microsoft Word 55kB Jan13 10)
Sample Exam Question (Microsoft Word 25kB Jan13 10)