Interpretive Exercises

Objective:  To supply students and teachers with information to understand and construct their own interpretive exercises. 


An interpretive question exercise consists of a series of objective items based on a common set of data.  The data may in the form of written materials, tables, charts, graphs, maps, or pictures.  The series of related test items may also take various forms but are most commonly multiple-choice or true-false items.  Because all students are presented with a common set of data, it is possible to measure a variety of complex learning outcomes.  The students can be asked to identify relationships in data, to recognize valid conclusions, to appraise assumptions and inferences, to detect proper applications of data, and the like.    The following are examples that are presented in a variety of school subjects at the elementary and secondary levels.

Example #1

Ability to Recognize Inferences

In interpreting written material, it is frequently necessary to draw inferences from the facts given.  The following exercise measures the extent to which students are able to recognize warranted and unwarranted inferences drawn from a passage:

Directions: Assuming that the information below is true, it is possible to establish other facts using the ones in this paragraph as a basis for reasoning.  This is called drawing inferences. 

Write the proper symbol in the space provided.  Use only the information given in the paragraph as a basis for your responses…

                   T – if the statement may be inferred as TRUE

                   F – if the statement may be inferred as UNTRUE

                   N –if no inference can be drawn about it from the paragraph


Paragraph A

By the close of the thirteenth century there were several famous universities established in Europe, though of course they were very different from modern ones.  One of the earliest to be founded was one of the most widely known.  This was the University of Bologna, where students from all countries came who wished to have the best training in studying Roman Law.  Students especially interested in philosophy and theology went to the University of Paris.  Those who wished to study medicine went to the Universities of Montpellier or Salerno.

Questions on Paragraph A


___             1.  There were lawsuits between people occasionally in those days. 

___             2.  The professors were poorly paid.

___             3.  In the Middle Ages people were not interested in getting education.

___             4.  There were books in Europe at the time. 

___             5.  Most of the teaching in these medieval universities was very poor.


Answer Key  

Example #2

Ability to Recognize Warranted and Unwarranted Generalizations

The ability to recognize the validity of generalizations is of central importance in the interpretation of data.  At minimum, students should be able to determine which conclusions the data support, which data refute, and which data neither support nor refute.  The use of true-false format is shown here in the following example:




Percentage of population between the ages of 25 and 34 who have completed secondary and higher education, by gender for large industrialized countries: 1989


                                         Males                                                        Females

                   -----------------------------------------                      ----------------------------------

                     Secondary         Higher                                Secondary               Higher

                     Education         Education                          Education               Education



U. S.                 85.7                    24.9                                     87.4                        23.5

Japan               89.3                    34.2                                     91.8                        11.5

Germany         94.5                    13.3                                     88.2                         10.3

UK                   79.7                     12.8                                    73.7                         9.5

France              65.6                     8.1                                      60.4                        7.1

Italy                  40.9                     6.9                                      41.2                         6.5

Canada             82.1                    16.9                                     84.8                         15.2




The following statements refer to the data in the table above.  Mark each statement according to the following key. 


Circle        S  if the statement is supported by the data in the table.

                  R  if the statement is refuted by the data in the table.

                  N  if the statement is neither supported nor refuted by the data.


1.  Across all seven countries, the percentage of men between the ages of 25 and 34 who have completed their higher education is greater than the corresponding percentage of woman.          

                            S             R           N

2.  College admissions policies give preferential treatment to male applicants over female applicants.                

                            S               R          N

3.  When males and females are combined, the U.S. has the second-highest secondary school completion percentage for young adults between the ages of 25 and 34.                                   

                            S              R           N


Answer Key

Example #3

Use of Pictorial Materials

Pictorial materials can serve two useful purposes in interpretive exercises.  (1) They can help measure a variety of learning outcomes similar to those already discussed simply by replacing the written or tabular data with a pictorial presentation.  This use is especially desirable with younger students and when ideas can be more clearly conveyed in pictorial form.  (2)  Pictorial materials can also measure the ability to interpret graphs, cartoons, maps, and other pictorial materials.  In many school subjects, these are important learning outcomes in their own right.  The following example(s )illustrates the use of pictorial materials:



Circle the letter that indicates the clock of choice. 


What clock shows the time that school starts?                       A   B   C   D

What clock shows the time closest to lunch time?                 A   B   C   D

What clock shows half past the hour?                                    A   B   C   D


Answer Key




Average number of days of school per year  for 13-year-olds, by country. School year 1990-91. (From The Condition of Education, 1993. National Center for Education Statistics.)


Average number of Days


Directions:  The following statements refer to the data in the chart above.  Mark your answer according to the following key.


Circle:           T – if the data in the chart are sufficient to make the statement true.

                       F – if the data in the chart are sufficient to make the statement false.

                       I –if the data in the chart are insufficient to determine whether the                                                 statement is true or false.


T         F          I      1.  The number of days per year of school is lower in the U.S. than in any other countries shown.

T         F          I      2.  The average number of days of school is higher in the three Asian countries than in the reremaining six.

T         F          I      3.  U. S.  students spend fewer hours in school than do students from Japan.


Answer Key





The interpretive exercise has many advantages.  First, the introductory material makes it possible to measure the ability to interpret written materials, charts, graphs, maps, pictures, and other communication media encountered by everyday situations.  Second, the interpretive exercise makes it possible to measure more complex learning outcomes than can be measured with a single objective item.  Third, by having a series of related test items based on a common set of data, greater depth and breadth can be obtained in the measurement of intellectual skills.  Forth, the interpretive exercise minimizes the influence of irrelevant factual information on the measurement of complex learning outcomes. 

The main advantage of the interpretive exercise over the performance-based assessment task, in measuring complex achievement, is derived from its greater structure.  Students are not free to redefine the problem.


One major limitations the interpretive exercise has is the difficultly of construction.  Selecting printed materials that are new to the students but that are relevant to the instructional outcomes requires considerable searching.  When pertinent material is found, it usually must be edited and reworked to make it suitable for testing purposes.  A second limitation, especially pertinent when the introductory material is in written form, is the heavy demand on reading skill.  The poor reader is handicapped by both the difficulty of the reading material and the length of time it takes to read each test question.




There are two main tasks in constructing interpretive exercises (1) selecting appropriate introductory material and  (2)  constructing a series of dependent test items.  The following suggestions will aid in constructing high-quality interpretive exercises:


1.     Select introductory material that is relevant to the objective of the course.

2.     Select introductory material that is appropriate to the students’ curricular experience and reading level.

3.     Select introductory material that is new to students.

4.     Select introductory material that is brief but meaningful.

5.     Revise introductory material for clarity, conciseness, and greater interpretive value.

6.     Construct test items that require analysis and interpretation of the introductory material. 

7.     Make the number of test items roughly proportional to the length of the introductory material.

8.     In constructing test items for an interpretive exercise, observe all pertinent suggestions for constructing objective items.

9.     In constructing key-type test items, make the categories homogeneous and mutually exclusive.

10. In constructing key-type test items, develop standard key categories where applicable.



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This page constructed by Daniel Housten and Dr. Jerry Irons