A Rubric for Assessing Students' Experimental Problem-Solving Ability

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The ability to couple problem solving both to the understanding of chemical concepts and to laboratory practices is an essential skill for undergraduate chemistry programs to foster in our students. Therefore, chemistry programs must offer opportunities to answer real problems that require use of problem-solving processes used by practicing chemists, including those of experimental design. Additionally, programs should assess the extent to which these skills are mastered by students and use the results to inform curricular development. This manuscript describes a rubric for experimental problem solving in chemistry that seeks to assess the extent to which students can both understand a chemical problem and design an instrument-based strategy to address it. The rubric effectively differentiates responses to practicum questions answered by students at different stages of the undergraduate chemistry curriculum. The data show that students improve in their ability to problem solve as they progress through the program. On average, students are able to provide a "correct" answer before they are able to articulate a complete understanding of the problem or to justify their choices. The rubric will be useful to others seeking to study or assess student problem-solving skills at both the course and curricular levels.