May 19, 2009

Tested Test Questions

In an article that made me crazy, published a couple of days ago in the New York Times, it talks about online websites that allow students to find copies of class notes, keys to textbook questions and answers to test questions for popular classes. This tidbit really tweaked me:
But defenders of the Web sites — including some professors — say that teachers should not be recycling exams and that students who simply copy homework solutions hurt themselves at exam time.
Okay, yeah, we know about the "hurt themselves at exam time" stuff. But the first--that teachers shouldn't be recycling exams?

I haven't given the same test yet in any of my classes. Sometimes I emphasize one aspect of writing, or move on to something else. But many of the best questions for tests only come about because they themselves have been "tested." That is, they have proven to elicit from the student the information you want them to link to the question, the question isn't vague or ambiguous.

When I took the GRE, way back in caveman time when we used pencil, paper and test booklets, we were told that one section of the test was a "test" portion, to see if the questions were viable and reliable predictors of knowledge and thinking. (And they wouldn't tell us which one it was.) I'm sure that's why I think I failed the GRE when I came out of there. I did okay on the first test section, but the second! I couldn't make heads or tails out of some of the questions, the answers were elusive and nightmarishly difficult. I had to keep going and take the other sections, but I've often wondered about Section II.

My friend Bryan had spent years perfecting his test questions for his Business Management classes, carefully numbered and coding the tests (he used the A, B, C method of three different tests to prevent cheating). One semester, his last before he died of a heart attack, two students distracted him while their buddy made off with a test. It haunted him, frustrated him that he had to redo an entire class final because of someone's dishonesty. I still remember him telling me the story. I get it now.

So I do what Bryan, my husband (also a prof) do: I never give back the finals. Those questions are golden.

1 comment:

  1. It is amazing to me that someone would take the time to post notes and test questions for other people!

    The university I went to had a really good teaching program. The final project was a giant portfolio that took about 2 years to make (all assignments from classes) and was supposed to help us get a job. (Nobody has ever looked at mine and I have been on many interviews...) Anyway! One of the sororities was reported to have several of these lying around for the sisters to use if they needed an assignment. I often wondered (if it was true) if these girls would later become teachers who would allow cheating in their classes. I am sure the cheating did haunt your friend after all that work to protect his work.