such assessments must be carefully designed to minimize the potential advantages of using knowledge previously stored in long-term memory.

To estimate a person’s knowledge and problem-solving ability in familiar fields, however, it is necessary to know which domain-specific problem-solving schemas people have and when they use them. Assessments should evaluate what information people have and under what circumstances they see that information as relevant. This evaluation should include how a person organizes acquired information, encompassing both strategies for problem solving and ways of chunking relevant information into manageable units. There is a further caveat, however, about such assessments. Assessment results that are intended to measure knowledge and procedures in long-term memory may, in fact, be modulated by individual differences in the processing capacity of working memory. This can occur when testing situations have properties that inadvertently place extra demands on working memory, such as keeping track of response options or large amounts of information while answering a question.


In addition to expanding our understanding of thinking and learning in general, cognitive research conducted over the past four decades has generated a vast body of knowledge about how people learn the content and procedures of specific subject domains. Researchers have probed deeply the nature of expertise and how people acquire large bodies of knowledge over long periods of time. Studies have revealed much about the kinds of mental structures that support problem solving and learning in various domains ranging from chess to physics, what it means to develop expertise in a domain, and how the thinking of experts differs from that of novices.

The notion of expertise is inextricably linked with subject-matter domains: experts must have expertise in something. Research on how people develop expertise has provided considerable insight into the nature of thinking and problem solving. Although every child cannot be expected to become an expert in a given domain, findings from cognitive science about the nature of expertise can shed light on what successful learning looks like and guide the development of effective instruction and assessment.

Knowledge Organization: Expert-Novice Differences

What distinguishes expert from novice performers is not simply general mental abilities, such as memory or fluid intelligence, or general problem-solving strategies. Experts have acquired extensive stores of knowledge and skill in a particular domain. But perhaps most significant, their minds have organized this knowledge in ways that make it more retrievable and useful.

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