Posted by Jessica Yauney on Oct 29, 2021
Have you ever been asked to estimate the weight of something? That is a hard question.

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Adaptive Comparative Judgement

Have you ever been asked to estimate the weight of something? That is a hard question. Have you ever been asked which item is heavier? Much easier question, right? It is almost always much harder for us to objectively evaluate the quality of a single item than it is to compare two objects; hence the reason an optometrist shows a patient two items side-by-side and asks for a comparison rather than simply challenging the patient to identify the correct prescription from a chart. Adaptive Comparative Judgement (ACJ) is a technique that applies this idea of comparing rather than simply evaluating quality. One of the most common applications of ACJ is as an assessment tool. Research has shown that ACJ is a more reliable and accurate grading method than even rubrics. If you would like to learn more about ACJ check out this YouTube video or this blog article

Learning by Evaluating (LbE)

Even more interesting than a better, faster way to grade (and that is hard to beat) is a better way to learn. Learning by Evaluating is a new technique that applies the concepts of comparing and evaluating through ACJ to learning instead of assessing. Recent research has shown that students who participate in learning by evaluation have significantly better outcomes than those who do not. For more information check out this journal article
While there are some existing software options to facilitate these activities (Examples: RM Compare or No More Marking), the remainder of this article is going to propose methods of Learning by Evaluating that do not require specialized software.

Learning from Examples

As teachers, we all know that examples are extremely useful in a variety of learning contexts. However, with LbE students can gain even more from comparing examples. For example, students learning design principles may design a logo as a work product. Students can look at hundreds of examples without taking the time to consider how aspects of design inform logo creation. By instead asking students to compare logos side by side (e.g., past to current logos or different options for one company) students can begin to recognize differences (both strengths and weaknesses) and learn what makes a logo more attractive. Activities like these, where students interact with examples, can be easily created in a PowerPoint presentation to be completed as a class or individually. A similar activity could be facilitated on a piece of paper or using posters around the room. 

Learning from Each Other

Peer Review is a great tool in the classroom. It is a means of having students receive and give feedback, both of which improve student achievement. LbE, enacted through an existing ACJ software, can also facilitate improved anonymous peer feedback. While students may not be particularly good at providing specific comments on a single piece of work, their abilities are significantly improved when they instead work in a compare and contrast setting while comparing two items (journal article). By providing students the opportunity to compare multiple items, they are better able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each item. How often has your students’ feedback been “I like it” or “looks good”? This allows them to give their peers better feedback and to draw general conclusions that will better help students to improve their own work.

Learning New Concepts

Computer Programming more than many subjects is governed by not only rules but also design patterns. While ACJ can be a powerful tool when working with broad concepts like website design, it can also be a powerful tool for helping students understand smaller concepts like code style and code efficiency. One simple example, one could ask students which they prefer and why between A and B:
    maxAgeSoFar = age;
if(a>x){ x=a;}
Slightly more complex and getting at a common student misconception about code efficiency students could be asked which code is faster A or B. While B is significantly shorter, it does not actually run as quickly as A. 
int binarySearch(int arr[], int l, int r, int x)
    if (r >= l) {
        int mid = l + (r - l) / 2;
        if (arr[mid] == x)
            return mid;
        if (arr[mid] > x)
            return binarySearch
              (arr, l, mid - 1, x);
        return binarySearch
              (arr, mid + 1, r, x);
    return -1;
int search(int arr[], int n, int x)
    int i;
    for (i = 0; i < n; i++)
        if (arr[i] == x)
            return i;
    return -1;


Adaptive Comparative Judgement is an exciting new frontier that has the potential to significantly change education. It has clear applications in improving assessment and evaluation. However, it also has the potential to improve student learning as they engage in evaluatory comparisons. ACJ can facilitate learning from examples, learning from each other, and even learning new concepts. Let us know how it goes in your classroom and how you make it your own.

About the Author

Jessica Yauney ( graduated from UC Berkeley in Applied Math, Computer Science, and Education before teaching AP Computer Science Principles and AP Computer Science A in Los Angeles, CA. Jessica is currently studying and researching Computer Science Education at Brigham Young University. She is working on a DRK-12 grant about Learning by Evaluating with Scott Bartholomew, Nathan Mentzer, and Andrew Jackson.