Making and Testing Conjectures

This material was originally developed through CAUSE
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: April 5, 2007

Compiled by Shirley J. Alt at The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Having students make and test conjectures is an effective way of engaging them in learning and helping them develop their reasoning abilities.

What are Conjectures?

Conjectures by definition are inferences or judgments based on inconclusive or incomplete evidence (American Heritage Dictionary, 2006). They are statements, opinions or conclusions based on guesswork.

Conjectures are important because they impact student learning.

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Why Have Students Make and Test Conjectures?

Constructivist theory supports having students make and test conjectures. Constructivism is built on the foundations of Piaget (1950), Ausubel (1960), and Rumelhart (1991) and contends that students construct their own knowledge and are not just passive receivers of information. Students construct new knowledge based on their past experiences and previously acquired knowledge.

Despite the strength of this theory, there is evidence in the literature that many college instructors still rely heavily on traditional lectures for teaching and assessing student learning (Macdonald, Manduca, Mogk, & Tewskbury, 2004). Finding ways to have students make and test conjectures seems like a promising way to move beyond traditional lectures and help students construct new knowledge.

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How to Have Students Make and Test Conjectures?

It is through the process of having students make and test conjectures that higher levels of reasoning and more complex learning will occur.

Suggestions for using the Make and Test Conjecture Method

  • Grab a student's attention by presenting them with a thought provoking research question.
  • Engage the students by having them make a prediction(s) about possible outcomes to this question and then have them explain and share their reasoning.
  • Have students collect, access, or simulate data to answer the research question.
  • Have students analyze the data to see possible data-based answers to the research question.
  • Create disequilibrium by having students compare their prediction(s) with actual outcomes.
  • Promote discussions that encourage students to come up with explanations for the predicted and actual outcomes in order to strengthen associations between concepts and further develop their reasoning abilities.

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Classroom Examples

The Example Collection contains a growing number of activities that can be used to access and address conjectures. Each activity includes a complete list of materials, instructions, teaching tips, assessment ideas, and references.

Noteworthy activities include:

Example Collection


  • Printed Articles and Books
  • Articles and Papers Available Online


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