Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

The Associate Technique: Assessing Intraverbal Repertoires in the Classroom

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

The Associate Technique: Assessing Intraverbal Repertoires in the Classroom

Article excerpt

This paper discusses the rationale for and practical development of associate technique (AT) examinations for classroom use, and reveals ecologically valid investigations regarding the use of the AT in undergraduate and graduate education. The AT is a method for testing what students "know about" a certain subject matter, measuring specialized vocabulary by sampling the minimal intraverbal repertoires a student can write given textual stimuli. The format allows test writing and test scoring to be simple, and the technique can be used for all education levels in almost all realms of study. Reliability and validity measures for the AT are robust. The scoring criteria, student reactions, and support for applying the AT to pedagogy are discussed.

Key words: associate technique, word association, intraverbal, assessment, testing.


Most educators quickly learn that tests that take a short time to write will take a long time to grade and vice versa. Writing an essay examination is typically a brief process of formulating a few open-ended questions (or maybe just one) that the students must expand upon to show what they know about the course material. A short answer test is similar to the essay test, but there are usually more questions and the answers are expected to be concise. Conversely, writing a comprehensive multiple-choice examination involves a more lengthy process of writing an adequate number of question stems and their possible answers, with the benefit of a shorter correction time.

Multiple-choice tests are ubiquitous in academe and public life. Not only do scholastic entrance examinations (ex. SATs, GREs) utilize the multiple choice method, but so do driver's license tests and many employment qualification screenings (ex. licensed psychologist, lifeguard). A multiple-choice test requires the composition of many item stems and at least three, but usually four or more possible answers. This time investment is justified because the grading is quick and "objective." The answer is detectable as either A, B, C, or D, which makes hand scoring uncomplicated and computer scanning effortless. The simplicity of administration and "objective" scoring methods promotes its wide use. In addition, multiple-choice test generating software, included with many college instructor manual packages, makes devising a multiple choice test very simple.

Although creating multiple-choice tests has been simplified, there are inherent weaknesses in this assessment technique. Often derided as "multiple-guess" tests, this method presents the correct answer to the examinee, thus only investigating a student's recognition skill, rather than the more ecologically valid skill of recalling information. A student may study the material differently if required to only recognize facts and relations, and these study habits and testing methods may not select a repertoire enabling the student to recall important information at a later time. In addition, the "multiple-guess" tests allow chance factors to affect scoring in a way that random responding on a four item test will approximate a 25% correct rate, and "good testers" will do even better despite minimal content knowledge because they are savvy to the multiple choice format. Educators that only train students to pass multiple-choice tests are doing their students a disservice.

Essay examinations are on the other side of the education assessment spectrum. The task requires significant recalling of the course material and writing the material in a scholarly manner. Good grades on an essay exam are awarded to students who comprehensively convey the material in a coherent style by acceptably summarizing or synthesizing the lecture material, class discussion, and assigned reading. Studies show that students who are well prepared for an examination prefer essay exams over multiple choice exams (Attkisson & Snyder, 1975).

Because essay tests give the student the opportunity to make declarative statements to demonstrate knowledge about the material, it can be argued that they are superior to multiple-choice examinations as assessments of a student's knowledge. …

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