Problem solving is a response to a question that requires thought and/or planned action. Plants et al. (Plants, H.L., et al., A Taxonomy of Problem-Solving Activities and Its Implications for Teaching, in The teaching of elementary problem solving in Engineering and related fields, J.L. Lubkin, Editor. 1980, American Society for Engineering Education: Washington D.C.) describe it as the student will combine ideas to produce an answer to a previously unanswered question. Problems vary in complexity and openness and, consequently, assessing problems also varies in complexity. In a closed problem the teacher knows the method and the solution; the answer is constructed and convergent. These problems are easy to assess but as the problems become more open and complexity increases, assessment has to become more flexible and it is more difficult to be reliable and valid. The same applies to assessing large numbers of students. For simple closed ended problems it is easy but for other types it is time demanding being difficult to implement.

E-assessment implementation of problem solving

The implementation of e-assessment strategies for problem solving may depend on the type of the problem and on what type of information the assessor wants to obtain.

Computer based test / online testing

Online testing may be used for the assessment of problem solving. MCQs or SAQs with automated correction and feed-back may be implemented when the student is solving an exercise with a known answer. If it is necessary to register the solving process, the test will have to include an open answer question type that allows the insertion of special notations.

File upload

The student may be asked to submit a file that shows the process used to solve the problem. This type of tools allows students to submit files from specific software that was used to implement the problem.


An online discussion may be used to promote collaborative problem solving among students or to discuss the chosen approach with a single student.

Concept maps and Diagrams

In open-ended enquiry and in projects, students may be asked to build a diagram or concept map of the procedure they will implement. This type of tool may be useful to assess student’s planning of the solution to problem.


Computer based simulations play an important role in authentic assessment of problem solving. Simulations may vary in nature and complexity but they usually allow students to manipulate data, examine consequences. Simulations may have a strong graphical component, representing a physical system that can be manipulated, or may be text/numerical based representing a conceptual model. Students will need to manipulate the software to produce the solution to a given problem.

Scenario-based activity

Scenarios are suitable for complex problem-solving and situations that require making decisions in an authentic context. Usually it requires the use of software. However, in some cases it may be implemented using a discussion forum to develop the interaction between the different roles of the simulated situation.