Baseline Testing in Art & Design

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Baseline Testing in art

If your current baseline test is simply asking everyone to draw a shoe or a similar object then what are you actually finding out is simply their general drawing ability. This is great and a good barometer of art ability in many areas, I even do it myself. However, if you measure the key ingredients foir success at GCSE or exam level art then you need a different set of skills. What your successful student needs here is; skills & techniques (not neccesarily in drawing,) ability to create and develop ideas, independent learning skills, research skills and literacy (to write about and discuss art.) If you also study the new curriculum for art and design in the UK (and most other curriculums around the world) what you need to teach is; making skills, understanding of art, developing ideas, evaluation. These are essentially the same things as you need to be successful in exam art. So it makes sense therefore to have a baseline test that looks at levels in skills, imagination, literacy and independent learning ability.

Download the test at

Getting your pupil’s literacy level is fairly easy. You simply go to the Head of English and ask them to print out a list of your classes reading age/scores. This tells you a lot. First of all it tells you what level you should be pitching your teaching presentations at and trust me, most teacher’s teaching materials are way too high for the pupil’s reading age. You can tell this when pupils turn around at the end of your introductory presentation and ask their friend what they have to do! Yes, they have switched off and not listened, but this is usually because they couldn’t read your lesson material.

Once you have their reading ages in your marks book you will have a good indication of who will be able to write confidently about art, annotate their work and discuss art fluently. This is a key factor of exam success and if your students are struggling with their literacy YOU need to redress this with extra support and tuition.

Next you need a one hour lesson to do my baseline test. Sit your pupils in exam conditions and ask them to complete the cube drawing challenge. It is quite difficult for many to draw an accurate 3D cube and the results are quite telling. From this test I can tell a lot about a persons intelligence and their drawing ability (and also their maths ability too!) There is more information about this in the test itself so that you can interpret the results accurately. This is the only drawing test I do. I don’t do a long observational drawing test because I can find everything I need to know from drawing a cube.

After this I ask them to think of as many things they could turn the cube into, such as a TV, Game station, table etc. They write this as a list. When it is completed, they swop papers and mark each others’ scores. It takes 5 minutes and from this I can see the levels of imaginative, creative thinking they have. I would simply enter this information as Very high, high, average, below average, poor in my marks book. What is revealing is that often, the pupils with excellent drawing ability have poor imaginations and vice-versa. This has a profound effect on your teaching! To supplement this, I give the pupils thirty minutes to complete another drawing based on a cube, where they adapt, refine, change the cube into a complete drawing with background. This test not only reinforces my earlier observations of their general drawing ability, but also reinforces my assessment of their imagination skills. You can find out more information by downloading the test itself.

Finally, I give out a piece of homework. I write it on the board and ask them to find out the answer to a question: “Who is the mysterious figure in the painting ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ by Edouard Manet?” Again, this is not the same as asking them to study the painting, or to copy information. It is asking them to find information about a painting they are unlikely to know, read it, process it and then form an opinion. I would insist that the answer is written down and presented in any artistic, creative manner they like. This prevents students from simply asking their friend before the lesson then telling you the answer and allows personal, creative freedom in their response. What I gain from this test is; “Can they go away and find information, process it, form an opinion and present an answer to me creatively?” This is a KEY test of independent learning skills and gives me valuable information about who is most likely to succeed in my subject and at exam level. It takes me just over an hour to do the whole thing and I record the results in my book as:

Observational drawing (average from both 3D cube tests) = G&T, High ability, Good, Working towards or SEN

Imagination level (average from both tests) = G&T, High ability, Good, Working towards or SEN

Research skills (homework) = G&T, High ability, Good, Working towards or SEN

Literacy/Reading age

By having baseline information such as this, I can develop much stronger, more embedded teaching strategies for each child


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