Web Search Engine Skills Test

Take the following short test, adapted from (Korfhage, 1997). The answers themselves are not as important as how you find them, as well as the problems you encounter and solutions you discover. Allow yourself only 15 minutes for the Pretest to see how many questions you can finish. Use any search engine you like (e.g., Google, AltaVista, Teoma, Yahoo, etc.). The purpose of this skills test is simply to get you acquainted with the advanced features of today's web search engines, and to give you an appreciation for the complexity of information retrieval tasks.


  1. What is Donald Knuth's first published paper?
  2. Who invented the water bed, and where was it first mentioned?
  3. Who wrote "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig," and where did he or she get the idea?
  4. What was the ruling of the Indiana legislature on the value of pi, and when did it occur?
  5. How are the digits of a Social Security number determined?
  6. Who was Joe Pye?
  7. Who said, "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"
  8. Is there a French article about American spaghetti recipes?
  9. What is your aunt's zip code? Assume she lives at 3600 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, NC.

  1. What problems or frustrations did you encounter? Do any of these problems relate to the reading, or did you discover new difficulties with information retrieval not mentioned in the reading? If so, describe them now. Can you brainstorm any possible remedies?

  2. Examine the advanced search features of your favorite search engine. You will probably discover interesting and helpful features that you didn't even know existed. Learning about the extended capabilities of a few of your favorite search engines will also save you a great deal of time and frustration in your future searches.

  3. Use the language advanced feature of Google to find 4 articles written in Italian about Michelangelo's first work.

  4. Use the file format advanced feature of Google to find Powerpoint slides on the topic of spaghetti dinners.

  5. Try using Google's translation feature, under its Language Tools section. How well does it work? What type of projects might you use it for?

  6. The database for each search engine is different. For general searching, the bigger and more frequently the database is updated, the better. However, this is not always true. For subject-specific information, a subject-specific search engine is best. For example, to find a zip code, the best engine to use is the subject-specific United States Postal Service Zip Code Finder.

  7. Experiment with any search engine you like. Links to several popular search engines are available here. Try entering a very general query, such as soccer. Gradually make the query more specific, honing in on your actual intended objective. For example, a very specific query might be co-ed soccer leagues over age 40 in Raleigh, NC on Wednesday nights. Notice what happens to the performance of the search engine in terms of number of pages retrieved and quality of retrieved pages. Can a query be too specific? Why or why not? What happens? Why do you think this happens?

  8. Keep experimenting. What happens when your query contains typos or misspellings? Did the search engine you used help by doing some error processing or error correcting?

  9. As a search engine user, you should also be familiar with the Search Tips, Search Settings, and Search Help associated with your favorite search engines. Not all search engines process queries the same way. For example, one search engine may require Boolean queries such as spaghetti AND dinner while another may allow natural language queries such as spaghetti dinner. Read the search tips for two different search engines.

  10. Reading the help information for AltaVista, you'll discover the trick for finding information about Bill Clinton that does not mention Hillary Clinton. Enter the query Bill Clinton -Hillary.

  11. Use AltaVista's advanced date feature to search for a query requiring results with a timeframe of two weeks.

  12. As you are searching with the various search engines, notice the banner ads and sponsors. Brainstorm implications of this type of funding. What are the costs and benefits of these funding sources? For users? For vendors? For business owners?

  13. Use the Federal Communications Commission's search engine, which is powered by Inktomi. Enter a query such as First Amendment rights, and notice the relevancy score reported on the right side. Try the relevancy feedback feature by clicking on the text Find similar displayed under the relevancy score on the right-hand side of the page. How useful is this feature? Do you think it could be improved? How? While you are at the Federal Communications Commission's site, also take time to notice the advanced feature options available to users.