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Communications of the ACM


Assessing Abstraction Skills

Assessing Abstraction Skills, illustration

Credit: Sjoerd Los / Flickr

Abstraction is considered to be a key skill underlying most activities in computer science (CS) and software engineering (SE).3,4 As a central concept, abstraction is taught and utilized in various guises in every CS and SE course: in requirements specifications, problem solving, and modeling through to programming and debugging. Given its importance, can one assess an individual's abstraction ability? Are abstraction skills assessable at all? If no, why? If yes, how? We decided to conduct a survey to investigate this topic. As far as we know, this is one of the first trials to address this challenge.1

In 2007, Kramer proposed to develop a test that could assess abstraction skills in the context of CS and SE, and which would be more multifaceted than that used in psychometric tests.4 In this spirit, we decided to consult experts in CS and SE research and teaching concerning the suitability of various question patterns (or templates) for assessing abstraction skills. We specifically used patterns rather than specific questions in order not to limit the experts' line of thought, and, at the same time, to provide a template that each instructor could adjust and populate according to his or her needs.


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