Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


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Should we abolish the word "demonstrate" from our assessment lexicon?

Posted on July 15, 2018 at 7:45 AM

The word “demonstrate” in learning goals raises a red flag for me. Consider these (real) learning goals:

  • Demonstrate fundamental business and entrepreneurship skills
  • Demonstrate critical and creative thinking.
  • Demonstrate information literacy skills.
  • Demonstrate teamwork and collaboration.
  • Demonstrate ethical self-awareness.
  • Demonstrate personal responsibility.


Clearly the people who wrote these learning goals were told that they had to start with an action word. So they plopped the word “demonstrate” in front of a fuzzy goal. But adding “demonstrate” doesn’t make the goal any less fuzzy. What are “fundamental business and entrepreneurship skills”? What is “personal responsibility”? Until these concepts are stated more clearly, these learning goals remain fuzzy and therefore difficult to assess meaningfully.


Now consider these (real) learning goals:

  • Demonstrate proficiency in analyzing work-related scenarios, taking appropriate action and evaluating results of the action.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in the use of technology for collecting and analyzing information
  • Demonstrate the ability to work cooperatively with others
  • Demonstrate enhanced competencies in time management


Here the phrase “demonstrate proficiency/ability/competencies” are simply superfluous, making the learning goal unnecessarily wordy. Consider these restatements:

  • Analyze work-related scenarios, take appropriate action, and evaluate the results of the action.
  • Use technology to collect and analyze information.
  • Work cooperatively with others.
  • Manage time effectively.


Not only are they clearer but, because they’re shorter, they pack a punch; they have a better chance of engaging students and getting them enthused about their learning.


So should we abolish the word “demonstrate” from our assessment lexicon? Well, consider this (real) learning outcome:

  • Demonstrate appropriate pitch, tone and demeanor in professional settings.


If we make clear what we want students to demonstrate, using observable terms, “demonstrate” may be fine.


Now consider these (real) learning outcomes:

  • Demonstrate appropriate, professional conduct. (if you define it)
  • Demonstrate professionalism and cultural sensitivity while interacting and communicating with others.


It could be argued that these learning outcomes are a bit fuzzy. What is appropriate, professional conduct, after all? What is cultural sensitivity? But if we clarified these terms in the learning outcome, we’d come up with a pretty long list of traits—so many that the learning outcome would be too cumbersome to be effective. In these cases, I’m okay with leaving these learning outcomes as is, provided that the rubrics used to assess them explicate these terms into traits with clear, concrete language that students easily understand.


So, no, I don't think we should abolish the word "demonstrate" altogether, but think twice--or even three times--before using it.

Categories: Learning goals