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Water-Holding Capacity
Task with Student Directions

Grade 9-12 Performance Task
Developed by: New York State Education Department (NYSED)
University of Buffalo and NORC (1991)



This laboratory test presents a problem. Your task in Part A is to plan and design an experiment to solve the problem. You will have 30 minutes to complete Part A. At the end of the 30 minutes, your answer sheet will be collected. You will then receive separate directions for Part B. In Part B you will use materials and equipment provided in the laboratory kit to collect experimental data for this problem. You may wish to do your preliminary planning on the sheet labelled "Working Copy." Write this plan on the appropriate answer sheet in your test booklet.


The retention of water by different materials affects their use by plants and animals. Your problem is to design a method to determine the water-holding capacity of sand, soil, and moss.

  1. State a HYPOTHESIS for this investigation that relates to the water-holding capacity of sand, soil, and moss.
  2. Under the heading PROCEDURE list in order the steps you will use to solve the problem. You may include a diagram to help illustrate your plans for the experiment. Include any safety procedures you would follow.
  3. Construct a DATA TABLE or indicate any other method that you could use to record the observations and results that will be obtained.

PLEASE NOTE: In Part A you are NOT to proceed with any part of the actual experiment. You are just to plan and organize a way to investigate the problem.


  • Water - 800 ml (approx.) in a large beaker
  • Graduated cylinder - 100 ml.
  • 3 funnels (100 mm top diameter)
  • 3 funnel supports (ring stands or tripods)
  • 3 beakers - 250 ml
  • 3 pieces of filter paper (18.5 cm diameter)
  • Clock/timer
  • Wax marking pencil
  • Dry potting soil - 100 grams
  • Dry sand - 100 grams
  • Dry sphagnum moss - 100 grams
  • 1 spoon
  • Paper towels
  • 3 paper cups
  • Balance (accurate to +/-0.1 gram)



PART A - Experiment Design

Organize your experiment design under the following headings:
Use the front and back of these sheets if necessary.






PROCEDURE (Include diagram if appropriate)





DATA TABLE (For results and observations)






PART A - Experiment Design

This area is provided as a work space (or scrap sheet).
Be sure to enter your final plan on the appropriate answer sheets.
No work on this sheet will be considered for credit.








You will have 50 minutes to complete this part. Record your work for Part B on the answr sheet under the appropriate headings. Perform the experiment by following the steps outlined in the procedure (listed below). Under the heading RESULTS record your observations and measurements for the experiment. Use written statements, descriptive paragraphs, tables of data, and/or graphs where appropriate. Under the heading CONCLUSIONS write an interpretation of your results.

At the end of 50 minutes, your answer sheet for Part B will be collected.


  1. Place the three funnels into the funnel supports. Place a beaker under the lower end of each funnel. With the marking pencil, label the first beaker SOIL, the second SAND, and the third beaker MOSS.

  2. Fold the filter papers to form cones. Insert them into the funnels.

  3. To the first funnel add 20 grams of soil. In the second funnel, add 20 grams of sand. In the third funnel, add 20 grams of moss.

  4. Using a graduated cylinder, measure 150 ml of water. SLOWLY pour this water into the funnel with the topsoil. Don't allow the water to spill over the top of the filter paper. Record the starting time in the chart. Note what time it will be in 10 minutes. After exactly 10 minutes, remove the beaker in which water has collected. Place a paper cup under the funnel if water is still flowing.

  5. Repeat step 4 for the funnels with sand and moss. In each case record teh starting times. Perform these steps while waiting for the water to drain through the first funnel. Wait exactly 10 minutes for each of these funnels, and remove the beakers into which the water has drained. Use paper cups for catching any additional water that is still flowing.

  6. Measure the quantity of water collected in each beaker. Record your measurements and observations in the RESULTS section.

  7. From these results, state appropriate CONCLUSIONS.



PART B - Experiment Report

Organize your experiment report under the following headings:
Use the front and back of these sheets if necessary.


  Time Water Added Time Beaker Removed Amount of Water Collected







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