The development of validated concept assessments represents an integral part of our educational efforts within the MCDB department.  Since the inception of the SEI program, we have developed and published two assessments covering key concepts from the Introduction to molecular & cell biology and genetics courses.  We are currently in the process of developing an exit assessment for MCDB majors covering major concepts from across the MCDB core curriculum.

Introductory molecular & cell biology assessment (IMCA)1 and genetics concept assessment (GCA)2 
These course-level assessments are administered on a pre-post basis to gauge student thinking at the beginning of a course and to measure how student thinking changes by the end of the course.  
Several features distinguish these concept assessments from other multiple choice tests:
1. The questions cover learning goals that have been deemed important by multiple faculty members who teach these courses.
2. Multiple choice answer selections were developed through a rigorous process to ensure that each choice accurately reflects student thinking.  This process involved conducting "think-aloud" student interviews, observing groups of students solve problems, and soliciting common student misunderstandings from faculty.  
3. Biology jargon is minimized, so that students are tested on concepts and not hindered by a lack of vocabulary.
4. The questions have been validated by multiple faculty members and through dozens of interviews with students.
*Complete references for the publications describing these concept assessments are given at the bottom of this page.

MCDB Concept Exit Assessment (MCEA)
We are currently working to build a high-level concept assessment to measure how well students have mastered core biology concepts by the time they graduate.  This assessment will test learning goals from across the biology discipline and will focus on concepts deemed essential by faculty to a proficient undergraduate-level understanding of biology.  This tool is being developed in a manner similar to our previous assessments and will be validated using data and feedback generated from faculty and students.         

We are always interested in working with instructors at multiple institutions to verify that our assessment tools are useful and reliable instruments.  Please contact Jenny Knight ( with further inquiries. 


  1. Shi J, Wood WB, Martin JM, Guild NA, Vicens Q, Knight JK (2010) A diagnostic assessment for introductory molecular and cell biology. CBE Life Sci Educ 9:453-461.
  2. Smith MK, Wood WB, Knight JK (2008) The genetics concept assessment: a new concept inventory for gauging student understanding of genetics. CBE Life Sci Educ 7:422-430.