How to Write a Test for both
Creativity and Knowledge
Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. Art Education © 2004
Updated: Sept. 7, 2011

Table of Contents  
          grading     test writing     rights to copy     responding     related links

Teaching creativity through testing

The test formats below are roughly listed in order.  They start with the formats and types of items that require the most divergent and creative thinking.  The last items require the most convergent thinking and least creative thinking.  I am writing as an art teacher, but every teacher in every content area needs to consider the merits of helping their students go beyond knowledge. Students in every discipline can be asked to practice and be tested on their habits of creative thinking.


We cannot expect all students to favor tests that ask them to think creatively about what they have learned in our classes. It will be contrary to some of their expectations. However, if we are fair, and if we explain the benefits of learning to do creative thinking, they will have good reasons to push themselves. These ideas may need refinement, but I believe we need to think outside the box in testing if education is to foster creative thinking and better life skills.

  1. Flexibility test items  Give more points for the least expected and most unusual correct answers to a question. Tell the class how you are scoring these items. Give correct answers credit in relation to their infrequency as well as a feasibility ranking.
    Example question:
    How does an artist get the viewer's attention? Common responses would get less credit than uncommon responses that seem equally feasible.
  2. Fluency test Items. Ask questions that have more than one acceptable answer, and give credit based on the number of correct and tenable answers a student offers. Ask the student to rank the answers according to which answers are best, which are average, and which are less than average in quality.
    Example question: What are the reasons that an artist might be inspired to make a drawing of a landscape?
  3. Draw the opposite test.  Ask students to create a one-inch drawing next to each test word or concept that illustrates the opposite of the meaning of the selected word. This provides creative thinking practice because it requires both knowledge and imagination.
  4. Write the opposites test.  The students are asked to fill in the blank after each word by writing the opposite meaning of the word.  In research, highly creative people have been found to intuitively come up with opposites faster and more frequently than average creative people.
  5. Draw it test.   Ask students to create a one-inch drawing next to each word to illustrate the meaning of the selected word.  This requires both knowledge of the meaning as well as imagination or memory to think of a visual example of the concept.
  6. Essay test.  Essay tests can assess creative thinking or they can be directed at only memory and knowledge.   Good questions can be posed to require imagination and problem solving that builds on knowledge acquired in the course and on thinking skills practiced in the course.  For example, "List and describe the drawing and seeing skills you practiced during our 'Negative Space' assignment. Then write a different assignment that you could do at home to practice the same skills.  Make it as different as you can, but still practice the same seeing and drawing skills."  Also see grading below.
  7. Image/word matching.  Include a group of small images on the test and ask students to match the word that best fits each image.
  8. Short Answer and Definition test.  Ask students to write short definitions of the terms.  This is good for knowledge testing, but creativity is not being tested unless you ask for opposite definitions.  See #4.
  9. Multiple choice.  This is time consuming to write an assortment of responses that look correct, with only one correct response per item.  This can test knowledge well if the items and choices are well written.  To make it a bit more creative, you can ask which is the wrong answer.  It is easy to grade.
  10. Matching test.   Matching probably encourages the least creative thinking of these test formats. The teacher supplies a second matching list of definitions, names, etc. that is based on how these things have been explained in the course.  This test form is both fast to write and easy to grade.  If the lists are not too long, it is fast for students to complete it.  Because of these advantages, I often combine this form with one or more of the more creative test formats.
Concepts to test
The test writing described on this page does not test actual drawing skills.  Drawing and other art skills are probably best assessed by assessing studio assignments themselves.  I provide a sample rubric on another page to assess artwork itself. Tests can be used to assess the knowledge and creative thinking abilities that are also learned in the course.

This page includes a list of idea words (below) to use in an exam for a drawing class.  As a teacher you can form a similar list for any subject.  I was able to generate this list of words in about one hour.  If you teach another subject, you can do the same for your subject.  If students are required to study a book or other materials, some words would come directly from those materials.  As you scan the list, you will eliminate many words, and new words will come to mind.  Steal this list, but make it your own.

figure drawingThis drawing was done from a 
figure wrapped in
Only the ribbon was drawn.

click here to see the method
Learning to draw involves skills, knowledge, and creativity.  See this link for more specifics about the skills needed to draw well.

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You can combine several or all of the above formats in a test with several sections, or you could administer a series of short tests during the term using a different test format each time to see which of your students like each of the test formats.

Once you are comfortable with the way several of your tests forms work, keep refining them until you and your students agree that they achieve both valid and reliable results.  A valid test faithfully measures what your course teaches rather than general knowledge that many student would know anyway.  A reliable test consistently measures which students learned the most and you can be confident that luck was not a major factor in the results.

Word list below
Not all of the words on the list below are suited to all of the test formats.  As a teacher, you will want to assemble appropriate lists and take the test yourself before administering it to students.  Fellow teachers who agree to read each other's tests can be very helpful in finding problems. 

If your course consistently requires divergent thinking and imagination, it is quite valid to require this on the tests as well.  If your course emphasis is on following directions correctly and being very careful and neat, it would be unfair to require creative thinking on the tests.  I think many tests are unfair to highly creative students because most tests do not require creative and divergent thinking.  Unfortunately, course content is often taught without asking for enough critical and creative thinking.

Open ended options
Often I add a test section that allows students to add a limited number of points by listing additional things they learned.  Their list of items must be only things that were included in the course and not included elsewhere on the test.  This allows creative students to use their imaginations and "smart" students to list things they studied or memorized that were omitted from the test.

The List of Words 






Albrecht Durer

Angle orientation


Art of drawing

Atmospheric perspective




Blind Contour







Craft of drawing

Cross contour




Double image

Double meaning

Double take


Edge stenciling




Felt side of paper


Figure drawing








Henri Matisse

Hidden line

High contrast







Implied motion


India Ink

Infinite space projection



Jackson Pollack
Kathe Kollwitz

Kneaded eraser



Leonardo da Vinci

Life drawing

Light on dark


Line character

Line orientation

Line weight

Linear perspective


Low contrast




Multiple viewpoints

Negative space


One-point perspective


Pablo Picasso

Paper tooth


Petra glyph

Phantom line

Photo realistic

Placement on Page




Process oriented

Product oriented


Push pull


Rembrandt van Rijn











Silver point




Still life


Subject Matter


Synthetic charcoal


Three-point perspective


Tonal range




Two-point perspective



Vine charcoal

Visual memory


Grading the tests                                                      top of page
Matching is one of easiest test forms to grade, so this part of a test can be done by an aide, or a student volunteer from another class.  I format tests so this page can be removed and graded by an assistant. We grade by entering the correct answer next the error using another color ink.  We never grade with red ink, because red has a negative reputation. 

When grading essay or other more creative responses I try to sort out some of the best papers to grade those first, giving me a better idea about how to grade the rest.  I make copies of the best and most creative responses, drawing responses, opposites, and so on.  These strongest examples are shared with the whole class (not giving student names).  I particularly want students with less imagination to have a chance to see and attempt to imitate modes of thinking that produce innovative and imaginative results.  As a student, I recall being most frustrated by receiving a low grade without being informed about how a better grade might have been earned. 

Teachers will need to decide whether or not sharing the best answers is appropriate in their situations.  Younger children will often not have the maturity to accept and benefit from this form of instruction.  More individualized forms of encouragement and instruction are more appropriate for younger children. However, it is important for me to analyze the kind of thinking that is lacking so that I can find better ways to help students learn creative thinking.
When and how to start writing the final exam
Writing a rough draft of the final exam is one of the best ways to begin preparing to teach a course.  Writing the tests develops a good set of goals and objectives.  Assignments will be built around the skills and the body of knowledge that you expect to test at the end.  If you write a test that requires creative and imaginative thinking, you will more likely be teaching with similar methods in order to help your students do well on the final. Your assignments will be designed to foster innovative, and creative problem making and problem solving. 

Writing a test is a creative act in itself.  I try to start it when I am rested.  I try to start it when I have a block of time without distractions.  If this is not possible, I just make some notes and come back when I have more time.  This is like making a preliminary sketch or two.  The most important thing is to get started.  Never wait for inspiration because inspiration often comes out of the work itself.

Of course I never actually use the pre-course version of the final exam without editing it to reflect the course as it was taught.  I also design houses.  I produce a design in collaboration with the owners before the construction starts.  This generally requires from four to eight major revisions prior to the final plan.  Additionally, during the construction we make frequent changes and improvements on the final plan.  The house evolves with the best ideas from owners, builders, and the designer. 

Tests also get better if we review them periodically as they incubate on the hard drives of our computers.  When teaching a course, I may start with a syllabus or set of carefully made final plans based on my previous experiences, but I never follow everything the way it was planned.  The students, unforeseen events, and my own experiences always bring new ideas to the course to change it.  I always edit my tests before using them.  Because of the extensive time and effort needed to prepare good tests, I have always collect all the copies after class review of the results so that they are not given to students the following year.  However, I do give students access to study sheets that include words and ideas for them to review in advance.


Your ideas related to this page  
Like everything else about life, this web page is a creative work in progress.  Your responses are invited.  If you try something from this page and find that it works or does not work, please send me your ideas about what happened.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please send me a note.  Contact.

What can you copy from this page?

This page is ©  2004  Marvin Bartel, all rights reserved.  However, you are invited to link this page to your page.  For permission to reproduce or copy photos, text, or layout, or to place this page on another website or to make printed copies, you must have permission.  Contact me.  If you want to print a single copy for your personal use, feel free to do so, but you must keep this copyright with it.  If you are a teacher, you may use the list of drawing words on this page without permission so long as it is for your own classes only (you may not publish it for other teachers unless you have permission). 

Related links - Art education links by this author

Empathic Critique to Identify and Learn by Discovery

Backward Planning to Teach Creativity

Learning Skills to Learn to Draw

Learning to Draw Made Easier
Creativity Killers in the art room
Teaching Creativity
Teaching Methods of Idea Generation
Conversation Game to get ideas for artwork
Words as Art

The Blinder Drawing Game
Cubism Lesson process centered
Drawing Lesson with viewfinders
Drawing Lesson with blinders
Drawing for the "untalented"
Practice Shading
Teaching Observation Drawing  
Teaching Shading in Drawing
Learning to Learn to Draw
Drawing Rituals in the Art Classroom
Example Drawing Rituals
Rubric for Assessing Artwork

Related links from others

This paper presents a good overview of tests of creativity
Measuring Creativity in Research and Practice
Barbara Kerr and Camea Gagliardi
Arizona State University

An end of term evaluation idea and form
shared by art teacher, Judy Grochowski, winner of the 2003 President's Award from the Wisconsin Art Education Association.