Questions In Tests

Do I turn over?
Do I write the questions out?
I don’t know this answer
But we haven’t learned about the lesser spotted wurble beast…

I think I spent more time in yesterday’s test getting up and down to answer these kinds of questions than I did marking. Like all of us teachers, time is at a premium so this was more than a little frustrating. I dealt with it in my usual way, by writing. Yes, slowly and painfully and no, my arm’s not better yet.

The questions, inane as they seem, are symptoms of a more general problem – one that arguably I’ve contributed to. They tell me that the kids don’t really get the point of a test. They don’t appreciate why they are doing it. They aren’t making a clear distinction between lessons, when questions are expected and encouraged, and tests which are intended to, well, test.

Are we taking too much for granted? Maybe I’m expecting too much of my students, not in terms of their content knowledge, but in their understanding of why we test them at all. So what can we do about it?

Well, I’m going to start with this particular test. I’ll leave one question unmarked, and we’ll go through the rest, modelling the process, before peer marking that one. This will lead to a discussion of lessons vs tests, both in terms of what we write down and what I can do to support them. I tend to find sporting or musical performance analogies help in these kinds of situations.

This will also reinforce the need for good questions *in* lessons, and notes that make sense even *after* a lesson. Hopefully it will be a chance to discuss how to improve answers depending on the purpose and context of the question.

Finally, I’m planning to have my students generate a FAQ list based on our summaries. By putting it in their own words I’ll provide a structure they can engage with, as well as setting up a format for future tests where I list common issues with a specific question or query. We’ll see how it goes.

Briefly: yes, I know I’ve not blogged much. I’ve also been quiet on twitter. Despite a minor fracture, I’m hoping to get back online now and I’m sorry for neglecting the electronic staffroom over the past few months of a new job, illness and general incompetence.


4 thoughts on “Questions In Tests”

  1. The “I don’t know about” one crops up, a lot, in science – trying to get the idea that knowledge learned in the context of one system/animal/falling object etc can transfer to others that you’ve never heard of is hard to get over to some students. And there’s always the accusatory “but you didn’t tell us about THIS one”, which at times makes me want to respond “Well, David Attenborough/Brian Cox/random other geek god probably would have done if you’d been bothered to watch!”. I guess it comes down to teasing out some principles, then practising them lots in as many different contexts as one can.
    I like the idea of FAQs about tests, and other tasks, potentially – part of establishing the routine of how things are tackled so that time isn’t wasted wondering how to go about the task, giving more time to actually learn or do. You’ve got me thinking about how I can transfer that to working with classes I never actually see, whose states of bewilderment are always quite hard to gauge, but generally seem pretty deep!
    Good luck with the arm…

  2. Thanks for posting – even with pain, I hope you heal soon.
    Two things occur to me: learning that tests are where you display your knowledge and understanding without help needs to be a school-wide issue, so that students do not expect to be able put up their hands and ask for help.
    Secondly, do you need to be marking the test? Couldn’t they mark each others’ with the mark scheme on the whiteboard, and knowing that you will be collecting them in afterwards (so no cheating). The whole thing becomes much more formative as they engage with the mark scheme.

    1. After this one, we will be – I wanted to do the first one myself as a deadline for data entry approachesu. And you’re absolutely right about across school issues. It looks like I’m being volunteered for the teaching and learning group, and I’m planning to bring this up for discussion.

      As for the arm, I’m working on a blog post reflecting on it, two themes; the science of diagnosis/treatment and #guiltyteacher syndrome.

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