Biology Diagnostic Tests

Extensive research on alternative conceptions in biology is beneficial in knowing where pedagogical problems exist, but often comes up short in terms of providing effective classroom tools to help students learn the scientific conceptions. Individual interviews are great for finding out what students understand, but are not practical for most teachers and/or researchers. Carefully constructed multiple-choice tests in which the distractors are based on alternative conception research have been constructed in several areas of biology. Dianne Anderson and Kathleen Fisher developed the Conceptual Inventory of Natural Selection (CINS) in 2002 as published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.stock photo

In 2013, Anderson and graduate student Patricia Evans completed a significant revision of the CINS to create a brand new version for middle school students as well as a revised version for high school and college students.  These new versions use simpler sentence structure and vocabulary, yet retain the look and feel of the original CINS.  The high school/college version includes 20 items, with item pairs assessing each of ten concepts.  The middle school versions include either questions #1-10 or #11-20 since many teachers prefer to use only half of the questions at a given time.  The vocabulary on the high school/college version is slightly higher, but otherwise the questions are identical allowing for assessment with essentially the same tool from middle school all the way through college.  

The 2013 versions have been field tested with hundreds of students in middle school, high school, and college classrooms.  Since the CINS is a criterion-referenced, and not a norm-referenced test, it is perhaps best used as a formative, rather than a summative assessment. The individual questions also make excellent small group activities, and question sets #1-10 and #11-20 can be used as pre/post instruments.

View the 2013 conference paper on the development and testing of the CINS.

A manuscript describing the development and field testing of the 2013 versions has been submitted for publication.  If you are interested in using one of the 2013 CINS versions before the article is published, please contact Dr. Dianne Anderson at

Click below for the old version:

You are welcome to use the CINS, and we appreciate your feedback sent to