Context-dependent Item Sets

The phrase "Context-dependent item sets" may be new to you, but I'm sure you've seen this type of question before. By way of definition, let me provide you with an example:

Instructions: Use the case study below to answer questions 1-3.

Case Study: Mr. West wants his students to truly understand Civil War battles. He engages the help of a local Historical Re-enactment Society and assigns each of his students to the Union or Confederate side. His students join the re-enactors from 7:00am-7:00pm for a full day of activities which include a long march (complete with rudimentary battle gear), setting up camp, cooking over campfires, scouting territory, and engaging in a historically representative battle.

1. Mr. West's strategy is most representative of which of the following learning theories:

     a. Behaviorism
     b. Cognitivism
     c. Social Cognitivism

2. Mr. West is using which of the following strategies:

     a. maintenance rehearsal
     b. shaping
     c. multisensory teaching
     d. negative reinforcement

3. As which type of memory or knowledge will this lesson most likely be stored?

     a. Declarative
     b. Episodic
     c. Procedural
     d. Self-regulatory 


In short, a context-dependent item set consists of a series of questions (2 or more) that make use of a provided context. In order for it to be a true context-dependent item set, students should need to use the display in order to answer the questions. All question types can be used as part of a context-dependent item set and UVU students are welcome to overlap this question type with any of the other required items. Here are some guidelines for creating these exercises:

1. Define the intended learning outcome(s) that the exercise will be designed to assess.

2. Select or create a display consisting of information that is—

  • Directly relevant to the intended learning outcome, and
  • Novel to the students

3. Construct a series of test items that require students to reason with their knowledge and understanding of the subject by analyzing, interpreting, evaluating, and/or drawing inferences from the information in the display.

4. Write each item so that it complies with accepted principles of effective test item construction.

5. Design the page layout so that it calls students’ attention to the dependent relationship between the display and each accompanying test item.

6. Provide adequate directions which describe the tasks the examinees are expected to perform. Students should not be expected to infer what is expected of them.

7. Define the criteria which will be used to evaluate students’ responses.

8. Ask a knowledgeable colleague to review the exercise in terms of—

  • How well the tasks and content of the exercise match the task and content of the intended learning outcome.
  • The accuracy, completeness, and relevance of the scoring criteria.

9. Revise the exercise as needed.

10. Use the exercise on a trial basis. Analyze students’ responses and make further refinements.

Next, review the context-dependent item set that follows to check your understanding.