Wednesday, August 19, 2015

MANAGING STRUCTURED QUESTIONS

“When told to jump, Structured Questions don’t ask how high or how far, but how many times.”

The discussion thus far has been on analyzing the various components in the question. Now that we have a good appreciation of the functions of the various components, we can look at the nature of various question types.

As mentioned in the earlier sections, there are 2 types of questions; Structured Questions and Open-ended Questions. In this section, we shall be looking at Structured Questions.

All the questions covered so far in the examples have been Structured Questions. Such questions have marks awarded based on the number of times the task is being repeated.

Of the 2 types of Structured Questions, we are already very familiar with Information Recall questions. These are the questions that we prepare for by memorising textbook content. We have already analyzed these questions in great detail in the earlier examples. Therefore, I would like to look at the Data Response Question.

Data Response questions require students to answer the question SOLELY based on information from the data given. There is little students can memorise in preparation for such questions. However, there are still some rules that we can follow to successfully answer such questions. I shall uncover what these rules are by looking at the 2 more popular types of Data Response Questions; the analysis of graphs and charts; and the analysis of distribution patterns.

Analysis of Graphs & Charts

Food Consumption Graph

Fig. 1 Food Consumption in Japan, USA and China

The typical question that follows such a graph is either;
Describe and explain the changes in food consumption between 1990 and 2005.
or;
(i) Using information in Fig. 1, describe the changes in food consumption between 1990 and 2005.
(ii) Explain why these changes occur.
Putting aside the fact that the data on this graph is fictitious, we see that in both variations of the question, there are 2 Command Words, ‘Describe’ and ‘Explain’. For the ‘Describe’ portion of the question, we can find the answer from the graph. That makes it a Data Response question. At the same time, the answer for the ‘Explain’ portion of the question is not as readily available and will require book knowledge, so that makes it Information Recall.

Also, the Conditional Command Word ‘Using information from Fig. 1’ can only exist if the 2 Command Words of ‘Describe’ and ‘Explain’ are kept separate. This is because Fig. 1 does not give enough information for an explanation to be formed.

The way to answer this type of question would therefore be to;
  • begin with the overall picture 
  • then include individual changes only if they are major exceptions to the overall trend. 
The extent to which exceptions should be given is dictated by the mark allocation. Give the first mark to the overall trend(s) and then subsequent marks to the exceptions.

So for this case, the desired description should read thus;
‘Food consumption for most countries remained largely unchanged. This is with the exception of China, which rose.’
There are 2 general trends given in this answer. That is because there are 2 general trends in the graph. The trend that China exhibits does not fit the trend for their other 2 countries, and hence, there is a need for it to be listed separately.

At this point, we then need to check the number of marks that has been awarded for this question. If the number of marks awarded is 2, then the number of descriptions given above will suffice. However, if there are more than 2 marks awarded, then the analysis will need to go deeper and include the changes within the graph that do not conform to the main trend, such as the rise and fall in food consumption by the USA between 1990 and 2000.

Relevant figures should also be included to support your description. This is especially true for the version of the question which contains the Conditional Command Word ‘Using information in Fig. 1’.

So putting both parts together, we then get the complete answer;
‘Food consumption for most countries remained largely unchanged [with Japan staying around 4kcal and USA rising slightly from 2.3 to 2.7 kcal between 1995 and 2005]. This is with the exception of China, which rose [from 2 to 5 kcal in that time].’
The more keenly eyed amongst you will realise that the answer given did not account for the fluctuations between 1995 and 2005. It is not to say that those fluctuations are not sufficiently important to be mentioned, but in terms of priority, the general pattern (i.e. the change between start and end values) takes top priority above all other trends. The other changes should be mentioned only after the general trend has been described, and only if there are more marks allocated for the question than there are general trends.

Trend graphs also lend themselves to Compare questions. This is how such questions are usually written;
‘Compare the changes in food consumption between 1990 and 2005.’
The way to answer this is similar to the ‘Describe’ question, except that the comparative adjective should be added and should look something like this;
‘Food consumption for most countries remained largely unchanged [with Japan staying around 4kcal and USA rising slightly from 2.3 to 2.7 kcal between 1995 and 2005] WHILE China rose [from 2 to 5 kcal in that time].’
Though in this example we are studied a trend graph, this analysis applies to all graphs and charts.

Analysis of Distribution Patterns

Gobal Digital Divide

Fig. 2 Global Digital Divide according to the UN

The next type of Data Response Question I want to deal with is the distribution question. Their similarity to trend and pattern questions makes them noteworthy for discussion.

Typically, such questions are based on maps or statistical tables. The focus is usually on concentration patterns. Here is an example;
Describe the distribution of computers in the world today.
Similar to answering questions on trends and patters, the way to answer this type of question would be to;
  • begin with the locations of high and low concentrations 
  • then include areas which go against the overall trend. 
So for this case, the desired description should read thus;
‘The regions with the highest concentration of computers can be found in North America and Canada, Europe and Australia with 49.74 to 89 computers per 100 people. The regions with the lowest concentration of computers can be found in Africa and parts of South America with 0 to 4.54 computers per 100 people.’
If the question requires a comparison, the case will be similar to the discussion made earlier in the section on Graphs and Charts.

From here we can see that regardless of the material that is given for analysis, the approach is similar, almost identical. And this is really the main crux of this series. Questions share the same building blocks, regardless of topic, factor or discipline. As long as we pay attention to decoding the building blocks, we can answer any question, anytime, in any discipline.

Next up: Managing Open-Ended Questions

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