SOLO, which stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome, provides a systematic way of describing how a learner’s performance grows in complexity when mastering many tasks, particularly the sort of tasks undertaken in school. A general sequence in the growth of the structural complexity of many concepts and skills is postulated, and that sequence may be used to guide the formulation of specific targets or the assessment of specific outcomes.

The task is not attacked appropriately; the student hasn’t really understood the point and uses too simple a way of going about it (pre-structural).

One (uni-structural), then several (multi-structural) ,aspects of the task are picked up and used, but are treated independently and additively. Assessment of this level is primarily quantitative.

These aspects then become integrated into a coherent whole (relational); this level is what is normally meant by inadequate understanding of the topic. Assessment of this level becomes qualitative if it is to pick up its nature.

The previous integrated whole may be conceptualized at a higher level of abstraction and generalized to a new topic or area (extended abstract); this too requires qualitative assessment, (Biggs, 1995).

SOLO might be used to classify generically the quality, as represented by the sophistication of the assumed underlying logic, of students’ responses to assessment items (warning: if students have been ‘told’ a sophisticated answer in their classes then there need be very little thinking at all underlying its reproduction in an examination!).

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