Scientific Reasoning Survey


Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning ("Lawson Test") The 24-question, multiple-choice test probes students’ understanding of: conservation of weight & volume, proportional thinking, identification and control of variables, probabilistic thinking and hypothetico-deductive reasoning.1


5. To the right are drawings of a wide and a narrow cylinder. The cylinders have equally spaced marks on them. Water is poured into the wide cylinder up to the 4th mark (see A). This water rises to the 6th mark when poured into the narrow cylinder (see B).

Both cylinders are emptied (not shown) and water is poured into the wide cylinder up to the 6th mark. How high would this water rise if it were poured into the empty narrow cylinder?

a. to about 8
b. to about 9
c. to about 10
d. to about 12
e. none of these answers is correct



9. At the right are drawings of three strings hanging from a bar. The three strings have metal weights attached to their ends. String 1 and String 3 are the same length. String 2 is shorter. A 10-unit weight is attached to the end of String 1. A 10-unit weight is also attached to the end of String 2. A 5-unit weight is attached to the end of String 3. The strings (and attached weights) can be swung back and forth and the time it takes to make a swing can be timed.

Suppose you want to find out whether the length of the string has an effect on the time it takes to swing back and forth. Which strings would you use to find out?

a. only one string
b. all three strings
c. 2 and 3
d. 1 and 3
e. 1 and 2



23. A student put a drop of blood on a microscope slide and then looked at the blood under a microscope. As you can see in the diagram below, the magnified red blood cells look like little round balls. After adding a few drops of salt water to the drop of blood, the student noticed that the cells appeared to become smaller.

This observation raises an interesting question: Why do the red blood cells appear smaller?

Here are two possible explanations: I. Salt ions (Na+ and Cl-) push on the cell membranes and make the cells appear smaller. II. Water molecules are attracted to the salt ions so the water molecules move out of the cells and leave the cells smaller.

To test these explanations, the student used some salt water, a very accurate weighing device, and some water-filled plastic bags, and assumed the plastic behaves just like red-blood-cell membranes. The experiment involved carefully weighing a water-filled bag in a salt solution for ten minutes and then reweighing the bag.

What result of the experiment would best show that explanation I is probably wrong?

a. the bag loses weight
b. the bag weighs the same
c. the bag appears smaller



  1. Lawson, A.E., The Development and Validation of a Classroom Test of Formal Reasoning. J. Res. Sci. Teach., (1978) 15 p. 11-24., 2000 Edition.