Blueprinting an Assessment

Here are some suggestions to help you when you are constructing exams for your course. Blueprinting is one method of constructing exams in order to ensure alignment with course goals and objectives. It has several advantages, one of which is assisting you in constructing multiple items (such as for a question bank) that differ, yet assess the same objective at the same level. This practice prevents different forms of exams having different levels of difficulty. In addition, it gives the faculty member a way to show students who complain about their test being "harder" that the different questions are of the same level of difficulty.

Blueprinting an Assessment

Part I: Objectives and Question Level

To blueprint an exam, you first need to take a look at the objectives you want to measure for the exam. At what level of Bloom's Taxonomy do they fall? Are they at the knowledge level? The comprehension level? The synthesis level? You shouldn't use a question at a higher level than the objective allows. For example, if you had a history objective as follows:

  • The student will be able to identify the date the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed.

You would not be able to ask the question, "Please evaluate the tone and clarity of the Declaration of Independence. In what ways does the Declaration evoke the beliefs of the time period?" Instead, you'd be limited to asking "When was the Declaration of Independence signed?"

You can, however, write a lower level question as long as the objective is at a higher level (assuming, of course, the material was covered at the high level). So for the following objective:

  • The student will be able to evaluate the U.S. Declaration of Independence, connecting its writing style to the beliefs of the time period.

You could ask either of the two prior questions. 

Part II: Steps

Once you have a list of objectives your item is measuring, you can put those objectives in a grid format.

Objective Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation
Describe the processes that affect the flow of water in aquifers            
Explain how human activity is impacting the quality of water            
Predict how climate change will affect water supply in different locations            
Propose strategies to cope with an increasingly thirsty planet            

Then, add topics or subjects to each objective, as shown below.

Objective Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation
Describe the processes that affect the flow of water in aquifers            

Aquifer basics

           

Permeability, Porosity, Water table

           
Explain how human activity is impacting the quality of water            

Cone of depression

           

Land subsidence

           

Saltwater incursion

           

Groundwater contamination

           
Predict how climate change will affect water supply in different locations            

Legal issues

           

Borders and Water

           

Watershed governance

           
Propose strategies to cope with an increasingly thirsty planet            

Then, simply add the number of questions for each exam at each level of the taxonomy, keeping in mind the level of the objective you are using. If you know how many questions you want on a quiz or exam, and what areas you may want to emphasize, it becomes an easy matter of mathematics.

Objective Knowledge Comprehension Application Analysis Synthesis Evaluation Total
Describe the processes that affect the flow of water in aquifers              

Aquifer basics

1 2         3

Permeability, Porosity, Water table

2 1         3
Explain how human activity is impacting the quality of water              

Cone of depression

  2 2       4

Land subsidence

    2       2

Saltwater incursion

  1 2       3

Groundwater contamination

  1 3       4
Predict how climate change will affect water supply in different locations              

Legal issues

      4     4

Borders and Water

        2   2

Watershed governance

      2     2
Propose strategies to cope with an increasingly thirsty planet           3 3
Total             30 questions

You are now ready to write the questions for each topic at each level of knowledge. It is also good practice to have 3-4 times the number of questions you actually need in a question bank, sorted by topic and level. This not only ensures that students are likely to have different assessments, it also ensures that question difficulty is distributed equitably across students.