How I Like My Tests to Be

When I was in fifth grade, I had the (mis)fortune of having a History teacher who had a reputation among the students as a “terror”. She rarely smiled, humiliated students in front of the class, and gave the “hardest” exams. I think it would be safe for me to say that all of us in class had a fair measure of anxiety even before the year started. True to form, she was stern-faced and frowned more than smiled at us. She knew the exact dates of historical events without the need for cue cards or anything. I remember diligently copying pages and pages of her lecture until my notes resembled a schedule of activities of some sort.

Then came our first grading exams. It was a hundred-item test that had matching type, true-false, and identification questions that asked the same thing: match the exact dates with the event in History. After that, I lost any interest in History, or at least, in her subject. I hate memorizing dates.  Except for those dates well-remembered even by my parents (like Martial Law, for example), I don’t really remember what happened in, say, 22nd March 1897. History was supposed to teach me patriotism and nationalism, but memorizing those dates as though my life (as a student, at least) depended on it hardly helped.

I did not really particularly dislike matching type, true-false, and identification questions as long as they are not too specific as what that teacher did in hers. I preferred essay questions because they did not require me to memorize anything. I could go and argue a point or give counter-arguments as long as I understood the concepts. I enjoyed multiple-choice tests the least because the amount of words printed on the paper made me anxious.  It felt as though I would never get to see the end of the test. As a student, I made a habit of scanning the whole test before answering it. That way, I could pace myself in answering the questions, helping lessen my test-taking jitters. I also made a habit of answering multiple choice tests starting from the last number back up because this way, I know that I have already “seen the end” of the test.

As a teacher, I learned that with good training, multiple choice tests are quite easy to handle. I do employ them in my tests because they do not take a whole lot of time to check (and I can even ask help from my sister). I generally prefer the odd-one-out type of test because it allows for analysis on the part of the student. Aside from picking the concept that does not belong, I also ask students to state the reason why they picked it. When I first used it, I realized that some items can have multiple answers, depending on the reasoning behind it. My coordinator pointed out that such questions are actually helpful for both my students and I. It allows students to map out concepts while showing me how they process what I teach.

When I started teaching, I had a hard time designing performance tasks for my students. We use the Understanding by Design (UbD) framework in our school. This meant I first have to figure out what I want my students to learn and plan my instruction around it. I still find it challenging sometimes especially when I’m stumped at Stage 2 and could not effectively plan Stage 3. Slowly, thanks to practice and the modules that have been provided in my classes so far, I have come to see the importance of authentic assessments.

I have seen how more relaxed my students are when preparing for performance tasks than when it’s exams week when they all look harassed. I have also witnessed how they are able to tap into their creativity and how they readily research facts that they think will help them turn out better products or performances. In such less formal settings, they also gamely ask clarifying questions that they would otherwise keep mum about in lecture settings. Of course, pencil-and-paper tests cannot be totally eliminated in the curriculum. However, well-thought out alternative assessments, as pointed out by Cornally, Wiggins, and Mueller (in the module’s resources), make for a more holistic assessment of student learning.

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