Pre-Reading 2: Katherine Haxton on developing diagnostic tests

In the second of our pre-reading posts, we introduce a new idea to the 2018 meeting – “reports from practice”. The intention here is to get a glimpse into a current research project, and therefore to learn from the speaker how they are approaching their work. Katherine Haxton introduces herself and her topic, and has some prompts to prepare for her session. [Register for MICER18 here]

Presentation at MICER

I am presenting my work in progress at MICER and will be focusing on the development of diagnostic tests in spectroscopy.


Through analysis of examination and class test questions and answers, I have developed diagnostic test questions in IR, NMR, UV-Vis and equations of light that fit broadly with pre-university and 1st year study in English institutions. These questions are multiple choice questions designed to root out key misconceptions to inform subsequent teaching, and to evaluate knowledge acquired prior to university study.   I will discuss the approach I have taken to developing and refining multiple choice diagnostic test questions, and share some preliminary data analysis comparing cohorts in 2016 and 2017 studying the old and new style A-levels.  

Preparing for my session

I have two challenges for you in preparation for my session:

  1. Try a sample of diagnostic test questions: Click Link
  2. Consider a concept that you know very well and have taught for some time. List the common errors students make in dealing with this topic. Try to formulate it into an MCQ with good distractors related to the most common errors.  How would you go about gathering better evidence for common errors?



I am a senior lecturer in Chemistry at Keele University with broad teaching interests across spectroscopy, inorganic and applied chemistry. Prior to this I was a postdoctoral research in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of British Columbia Canada, having completed my MChem and PhD at the University of St Andrews.  At Keele I have taught courses ranging from 1st year spectroscopy and transition metal chemistry through to third year medicinal polymer chemistry with a brief period teaching in-service teachers and those on subject knowledge enhancement courses (pre-teacher training).  My philosophy of teaching and assessment focuses on developing generic skills alongside subject knowledge, particularly by allowing students to conduct research into aspects of topics of interest to them and producing outputs in a variety of useful and authentic formats. I believe that learning to ‘think like a chemist’ is significantly more important than being able to regurgitate mechanisms, derivations or chemical factoids on demand.   When not teaching or tangled in paperwork, I am academic director of outreach for Keele’s faculty of natural sciences and arrange several outreach activities throughout the year. I have been a member of the RSC’s Education Division Council for 3.5 years, of the editorial board of EiC for 1.5 years, and am closely involved with the development of campus wide lecture capture at Keele.

My chemistry education research interests span three broad areas: assessment regimes, particularly the impact of workload and engagement with feedback; development of diagnostic tests in spectroscopy; and the role of chemistry in education for sustainable development and society. Examples of projects in progress can be found (Essex and Haxton 2018, Haxton 2016). Other examples of publications can be found on my personal website:


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