Effectiveness of pattern noting on college students' written responses to essay examinations in introductory philosophy

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Nick Smith


Educational psychology, Curricula, Teaching, Educational software, Higher education, Philosophy

Subject Categories

Higher Education and Teaching


This study's purpose was to determine the effectiveness of pattern noting in improving learner performance on essay examinations in a college introductory philosophy ethics course. Pattern noting is defined as a spatial word association learning strategy whereby verbal information is visually organized on paper by the learner. Using any topic, learners construct a conceptual diagram of concepts and relationships between concepts. Pattern noting's strength lies in its ability to engage students in learning beyond the commonly utilized and frequently short-lived rote memorization. Students in two introductory philosophy ethics classes served as study participants, in a non-equivalent control group research design. Taught by the same professor, using identical instructional materials, in the same room one after the other, one class received pattern noting training and practice while the other class studied normally. Two graders scored essay examinations independently. Data analyses included a test of interrater reliability, paired t tests, ANOVAs, correlations between pattern notes and exam responses, attitude surveys, surveys of normal study habits, class observations, and random interviews.

Results indicated that despite the intervention of the pattern noting learning strategy, little or no effect was observed in treatment group examination performances. There is evidence that the pattern notes were heterarchical, and of low to average quality. Differences in pattern noting may have been influenced by subjects' note-taking ability, textbook structure, and attitude. Pattern notes appeared to have conflicted with subjects' preferred learning strategies. There is strong evidence that subjects gained better understanding of the subject matter content through other more conventional learning strategies. Also, it is apparent that subjects' attitudes toward pattern noting could have severely limited its potential success. Future research in pattern noting as a note-taking strategy might include a dual focus: (1) an analysis of pattern noting in a variety of learning situations, and (2) a reformation of the theory that provides the basis for pattern noting.


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