Assessing students' ability to critically evaluate evidence in an inquiry-based undergraduate laboratory course

Kay Colthorpe*, Hyab Mehari Abraha, Kirsten Zimbardi, Louise Ainscough, Jereme G. Spiers, Hsiao Jou Cortina Chen, Nickolas A. Lavidis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to critically evaluate and use evidence from one's own work or from primary literature is invaluable to any researcher. These skills include the ability to identify strengths and weakness of primary literature, to gauge the impact of research findings on a field, to identify gaps in a field that require more research, and to contextualize findings within a field. This study developed a model to examine undergraduate science students' abilities to critically evaluate and use evidence through an analysis of laboratory reports from control and experimental groups in nonresearch- aligned and research-aligned inquiry-based laboratory classes, respectively, and contrasted these with published scientific research articles. The reports analyzed (n = 42) showed that students used evidence in a variety of ways, most often referring to literature indirectly, and least commonly highlighting limitations of literature. There were significant positive correlations between grade awarded and the use of references, evidence, and length, but there were no significant differences between control and experimental groups, so data were pooled. The use of evidence in scientific research articles (n = 7) was similar to student reports except that expert authors were more likely to refer to their own results and cite more references. Analysis showed that students, by the completion of the second year of their undergraduate degree, had expertise approaching that of published authors. These findings demonstrate that it is possible to provide valuable broad-scale undergraduate research experiences to all students in a cohort, giving them exposure to the methods and communication processes of research as well as an opportunity to hone their critical evaluation skills.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-162
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Advances in Physiology Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


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