Standardized Tests

Initial Publication Date: October 22, 2013

Wiggins (2003) describes a fundamental tension between traditional standardized tests and the assessment of quantitative reasoning (QR): the standardization process tends to eliminate context so that no test-taker has an inherent advantage.

But a complete demonstration of QR requires that students show they can transfer their QR abilities from one context to another. Thus, the challenge for test-makers is to create exams with a lot of context (or, more aptly, different contexts) to see how well students transfer from one arena to another. At the same time, test designers must be careful not to introduce contexts which are culturally biased. Below are two multiple-choice instruments that have been carefully designed and tested for this purpose.

James Madison University (JMU)'s Quantitative Reasoning Test: Available for a reasonable fee, JMU's QR test is a 25-minute, 26-item computerized exam designed to assess two specific QR objectives:

  1. Use graphical, symbolic, and numerical methods to analyze, organize, and interpret natural phenomena
  2. Discriminate between association and causation, and identify the types of evidence used to establish causation

The test has been taken by tens of thousands of students at institutions across the United States and more recently in Japan using a metric version, providing potential to compare your students to those at other institutions. The test has been shown to be fairly reliable for assessment at the student level and so can be used to test progress of individual students or classes. QR scores have been positively correlated with related course exposures and grades in those courses.

Bowdoin College's Quantitative Literacy and Reasoning Assessment (QLRA): Available at no cost from , the QLRA is a 23-item multiple-choice exam under development with National Science Foundation support DUE 1140562. The test was piloted at 12 institutions by over 1,500 students across the country in 2012, with several new institutions taking the test in 2013. The exam can be taken online and requires between 30 and 60 minutes. It is intended to be used to assess both individual students or larger groups.

Each question is coded for the kind of QR being employed (eg percentages, pie charts). So, it might be possible to give the test as a diagnostic tool at the beginning of the term. However, the validity of subsets of the test has not been established at this time and so such diagnostic use should be viewed with caution.


Wiggins, Grant. 2003. "'Get Real!': Assessing for Quantitative Literacy" in Quantitative Literacy: Why Numeracy Matters for Schools and Colleges, Bernard Madison and Lynn Arthur Steen, eds. Princeton, NJ: National Council on Education and the Disciplines.