Test Perl Variables

You can test the values of Perl variables and perform different actions based on the result. This lets you add sophisticated functionality to your questions like custom feedback or grading functions.

The if Statement

Perl includes several ways to test variables and perform different actions based on the result, but the most fundamental of these methods is the if statement, which has the following syntax:

if (condition)
elsif (condition)


  • condition is a testable condition, such as $a > 3
  • do_if_true is one or more statements to be performed if the tested condition is true
  • do_if_false is one or more statements to be performed if all tested conditions are false

The elsif and else clauses are optional.

Use elsif to test additional conditions; statements will be performed only for the first true condition, not for every true condition.

Use else to specify statements to be performed only if none of the tested conditions are true.

Tip: You can also use the following abbreviated syntax for an if statement:
(condition) ? do_if_true : do_if_false

Comparison Operators

You can use the following comparison operators when testing values in your questions. You use different operators depending on whether you want to compare values numerically or textually.

Comparison Numerical Operator Example Text Operator Example
Equality (=) ==
$a == 3
$a eq 'red'
Inequality (≠) !=
$a != 3
$a ne 'red'
Greater Than (>) >
$a > 3
$a gt 'red'
Less Than (<) <
$a < 3
$a lt 'red'
Greater Than or Equal To (≥) >=
$a >= 3
$a ge 'red'
Less Than or Equal To (≤) <=
$a <= 3
$a le 'red'
Note: A single equals sign (=) is the assignment operator. If you substitute it for the double equals sign (==) in a test condition, the condition will not work correctly and depending on your code, the tested variable might be assigned a new value.

You can use logical and, or, and not operators to combine or negate test criteria as shown in the following table.

Logic Operator Example
And &&
$a == 3 && $b eq 'red'
Or ||
$a == 3 || $b eq 'red'
Not !
!($a == 3 || $b eq 'red')

To perform an action based on the value of a variable:

In an <EQN> or <eqn> tag, include an if statement that tests a condition and performs one or more actions.


The following examples should be inside an <EQN> or <eqn> tag.

# if $x is greater than 5, make it equal to 5
if ($x > 5) {$x = 5};

# if $x is greater than 5, make y = 10; otherwise, make y = x squared
if ($x > 5) {$y = 10} else {$y = x**2};

if ($x == 5)        # test whether $x = 5
  $a = 10;          # if so, set $a = 10
  $b = 2;           # and $b = 2
elsif ($x == 4)     # if $x ≠ 5, test if $x = 4
  $a = 8;           # if so, set $a = 8
  $b = 2;           # and $b = 2
else                # if $x ≠ 5 and $x ≠ 4 
  $a = 0;           # set $a = 0
  $b = 0;           # and $b = 0

# if $x equals "lion," make $y equal to "cat"
($x eq 'lion') ? {$y = 'cat'};             

Example Multiple-Choice Question With Two Correct Answer Choices

The following table summarizes an actual question.

Mode Multiple-Choice
Which is a characteristic of jellyfish? <_>
<EQN $ORDERED=1; if ($thisanswer==2) {$ORDERED=3}; ''>Sexual reproduction
Asexual reproduction
Respiratory system
Display to Students
question as it is displayed to students
Note: In this example, both $thisanswer==2 and $ORDERED=3 refer to the third choice in the list. This is because the WebAssign variables $ORDERED and $thisanswer are indexed differently. While $ORDERED starts at 1 for the first item, $thisanswer starts at 0.