Tracer studies are retrospective analyses of samples in order to evaluate long term impact of intervention programs. The results of tracer studies highlight circumstances that produce meaningful change in populations.
A tracer study helps researchers identify effective and ineffective components in educational and vocational programs. The results of tracer studies are quantitative and the data is easy to analyze. A tracer study in the field of education includes data from former students of learning institutions or vocational programs. The format of a tracer study is often a questionnaire. According to the manual for creating tracer studies by the international cooperative, Helvetas, effective tracer studies are short questionnaires with clear questions, ask for recommendations and use both quantitative and qualitative questions. Tracer studies are most effective when the samples are random and include annual collection of data. Researchers administer tracer studies to the sample groups between nine to 12 months after graduation from the measured program.
Tracer studies are common research tools for educational and training programs. These impact assessment tests help identify the strengths and weaknesses of the programs they measure. The institutions use the results of tracer studies to improve education and training programs as well as enhance the learning experiences of future learners.