art test

Baseline testing – Benchmarking in Art

Posted on Updated on

Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.50.41

Download the test

Art teachers, like all teachers have to demonstrate that their students are making progression under their tutelage. This implies that you need to define a starting point for your students and this is good practice since you can’t teach anyone anything unless you identify what they know and can do already. Traditionally, art teachers use an introductory project, executed over the first term and assess that. The problem with this method is that your introductory project will inevitably vary from year to year and teacher to teacher and in doing so, so will your assessments. Also, school leaders often demand a much faster snapshot of pupil ability for their data records, so the teacher may not have the time for a full assessment to be made. Now, many teachers find the notion of testing students unsavoury, but I never told the pupils I was delivering a formal test, I simply did the exercises with them in class.

I developed this baseline test over several years, with many trials and errors, until I had one that was quick, effective and that could be done (and marked) in class with the minimal effort on my part. This test takes about an hour to perform and mark, but the additional homework activity is carried over to the following week.

Baseline testing in art Any baseline assessment you use should identify the pupils current starting point in the areas of the Programme of Study you are going to deliver. In the Uk, the curriculum expects its pupils to learn to

Improve their skills at making art 

Generate ideas for their art

Extend their knowledge of art and artists

Evaluate their own and other’s art.

So this implies that I need to measure the pupil’s starting point in these four areas. So I designed classroom exercises to identify the pupil’s:

  1. Basic drawing skills
  2. Level of imagination
  3. Literacy level
  4. Ability to find and interpret information independently.

Basic drawing skills

I ask the students to draw a cube from a given starting point. All pupils learn to draw 3D shapes from a young age (usually about seven years) so this shouldn’t pose a problem. However, in my many years as a teacher of maths, I noticed that many students struggle with spatial awareness and 3D problem solving. In addition, I noticed a direct correlation between this spatial problem and drawing ability because drawing depends on 3D spatial awareness. So I don’t need to spend time doing a full drawing exercise to draw something from observation and shade it, because I can establish drawing ability much more quickly and concisely through the rendering of 3D shapes. So i provide a simple diagram of the beginning of a cube and ask the students to complete it.

Screenshot 2015-11-02 12.50.22

Drawing test (ten minutes): Draw or show the arrow diagram below on the white board. Get the students to copy this onto A4 paper. Do not allow students to use rulers and leave space at the top of the paper for further drawing.

Task 1:. Turn this diagram into a 3D cube (10 minutes approx.) note: It is important that you don’t help the students to do this.


  • Advanced spatial awareness – potentially has exceptional drawing skills. Draws the cube quickly and/or with skill and accuracy, using perspec- tive different to the one suggested (might even ignore the whiteboard diagram)Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.26.16

  • Confident spatial awareness – High/average ability. Constructs a cube in the correct perspective, connects all or most corners correctly and lines are approximately parallel. Can draw lines freely without using a ruler.

     Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.26.25


  • Struggling with spatial awareness – Average/Lower ability. Numerous ef- forts to attempt the task fail to completely convince or there might even be an adaption of the task to suit an easier method, such as front view perspective where two 2D squares are overlapped and the corners are joined. A cube might have been completed, but the lines are not parallel and deviate considerably from the correct angles.

    Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.28.19


  • Weak spatial awareness – Low ability. Unable to complete the task with- out assistance.

Usually, about 5- 10% of eleven year old students draw the cube using advanced perspective, (less in Primary). The remaining students will usually be spilt between typical and struggling spatial awareness, depending on the ability of the class and a tiny proportion will be unable to do it. What this reveals is that those who draw the cube correctly will be able to access most or all of your curriculum and will generally do well in art. Those with spatial awareness problems by ten or eleven years old are usually going to struggle with realistic drawing and will need more specialist help. 

Level of Imagination – To look for this I developed variations on a traditional psychometric test, the paper clip game (another variation of this is a drawing of a assymetric shape on a piece of paper). Participants must think of as many uses for a paper clip as they can. In my variation, rather than simply rewarding the pupil’s ability to think of multiple responses, many of which might be vague, I extended the exercise to examine the pupils’ ability to apply their imagination to a drawing.

Imagination test part 1 – On the reverse side of the drawing, set the pupils the task to list as many objects they can think of that the cube could be turned into. Note: It is important that you don’t help the students to do this. For example: You could turn the cube into a TV, a House or Dice, (15 minutes).

Marking this section is always done as peer marking in lesson, where we swop answers and typical scores are usually similar to this:

  • 0-10 = below average imagination.
  • 10-20 = average imagination.
  • 20-30 = good imagination.
  • 30 or over = very good imagination.
  • 40 or over = exceptional imagination.

Eliminate any answers that are wrong, duplicated or completely random or unclear. These results give you a good idea about a person’s ability to think visually and the breadth of their visual literacy. The higher the score, the more visually literate they are. Quite astonishingly, very highly skillful artists often struggle with this task.

Imagination test part 2Imaginative realisation. Draw a new cube of any size onto a fresh sheet of paper or you can draw on top of the first cube drawing. Now, look at the list of objects you have just made. Create an imaginative picture from the most original and interesting object on your list. Create a whole scene, including background, there no rules to this except that you should be able to make out where the original cube was. For example: You might have written TV on your list, therefore you might create a picture of a TV in an interesting and unusual scene.

You begin to see patterns emerging when you look at whole samples. One idea might have ‘caught on’ and spread around the class or you see repetitions of X-Boxes, Playstation’s, CD players, Houses and vehicles. When you get original ideas they stand out. Clearly, some people might be weak at drawing but have original ideas and vice versa. Many of the most talented artists in my classes have very weak imaginations and this test brings this to light. When a student has added rich details, back- grounds, perhaps even colour and have cleverly adapted and manipulated the cube you should score highly.

It is fairly straightforward to separate the outcomes of this task into these ability strands:

  1. Highly Skillful and Imaginative. Creates a highly imaginative and skillful picture that is original and well executed. The picture makes use of space, considering background, detail and perspective.
  2. Confident level of skill and imagination. A good outcome has been pro- duced that adapts and manipulates the cube to suit the student’s inten- tions. There is evidence of consideration given to background and de- tail, though some of the quality of the execution might be a little lacking.
  3. Developing level of skill and imagination. The drawing is highly depend- ent on borrowed ideas or there might be a considerable lack of skill in outcomes or little evidence. There is evidence of a clear struggle to achieve the class standard.

In the imaginative realisation drawing you should give consideration to:

  • Adapting and manipulating the cube to conform to their own idea.
  • Using multiple and repeat cubes to create more complex ideas.
  • Consideration given to background to make the cube part of a scenic composition.
  • Creation of depth, perspective and spatial awareness.
  • Consideration of the whole drawing.

I usually mark this in class with the pupils in a discussion/peer/self informal manner. Then I would record only one mark in my marks book from an average of the two test scores as exceptional, high, middle, low, SEN.

Evaluation test – Literacy Level: This is easy because I simply ask the English depart- ment for the pupil’s reading age. This gives me vital information about the literacy level of the pupil (and the class) that tells me how able they are to access my teaching materials, how good their written and verbal responses will be and in short, how effective their evaluation skills are. I’ll record them again as; exceptionally high reading age, high reading age, normal average, low and very low SEN.

Knowledge test – Ability to find and interpret information independently: The pupils are given a question on the board which they must write down then complete at home. The question is: “Who is the mysterious stranger in the painting ‘the bar at the Folies-Bergére’ by Edouard Manet 1881”. Present your answers in the most creative manner you feel appropriate.

What I’m asking my students to do is to find out what this painting is (a quick browser search), read about it, identify that there are many different opinions on who he is but no one really knows and then present this answer creatively in their own manner. Yes they can ask their friend in form time but they’d still score low/no marks because the quality of their response is poor. The ability to do this is crucial to the type of work they will need for GCSE. You are testing their ability to work independently and form critical opinions about art. I mark mine as a simple; exceptional, high, middle, low, SEN and no mark.


So now you will have scores in four areas of making, ideas, knowledge and evaluation and it’s only taken one quite interesting lesson and we’ve marked it in class. I’ll get the homework scores the following week and add the reading ages later. You can see now that I have very informative data to inform my planning and teaching. I can see who is skilful but lacking in imagination and vice-versa, I know how literate my classes are and how independently they can find and interpret information. I know who is potentially Gifted and Talented and who is especially weak. 

 Screenshot 2015-11-02 13.49.37