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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Order matters: pre-assessments and student generated representations

Kristy L Halverson1*, Carrie J Boyce1 and Jill D Maroo2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern Mississippi, 118 College Dr. #5018, Hattiesburg, MS 39406, USA

2 Center for Science and Mathematics Education, University of Southern Mississippi, 118 College Dr. #5087 Hattiesburg, MS 39406, USA

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Evolution: Education and Outreach 2013, 6:24  doi:10.1186/1936-6434-6-24

Published: 18 July 2013



People have preconceived notions about how the world works from personal experiences. When these notions are scientifically inaccurate they can encourage unintended learning outcomes. Thus assessing students’ prior knowledge is important, allowing instructors to target misconceptions and optimize learning. However, the structure/administration of pre-assessments can influence students’ achievement and potentially mask errors in understanding.


We investigated the influence of pre-assessment task order on students’ tree thinking responses. We investigated student responses on a two-tiered pretest and an associated tree building task from 133 participants.


Differences in the styles of student generated representations were significantly related to task order.


This influence creates the challenge of diagnosing student ideas and facilitating conceptual change, while not accidentally provoking misconceptions in the process.

Evolution; Science education; Phylogenetic representations; Pre-Assessment; Tree building