Tests and all that jazz

About to make a test? Well hold your horses and let’s get back to basics first and brush up on the equilateral triangle fundamental to the teaching practice:

teaching principles
Teaching Principles

When making tests, the first question you should ask yourself is what do I intend or expect the students to learn? This will take you back to the lesson objectives, which should be used at all times as your guide for making tests.  Once these are clear, you can proceed to preparing the test.

Decisions to Make

Teaching is as much the pre-production as the performance itself. Sometimes, it can even be mostly behind-the-scenes preparation rather than the actual classroom lesson delivery. All the time teachers have to conceptualize, make decisions, plan, prepare, and enact. The same process holds true for a particularly contested aspect of teaching, that of assessment.

Regardless whether you’re traditional or non-traditional in your assessment practices, a well-thought out plan is crucial. Here are some questions that you will need to ask yourself when you prepare a test or rubric:

  1. What is the purpose of the assessment?
    This will determine the level of difficulty.
  2. What kind of assessment would best measure the expected outcomes?
    This will determine the kind of assessment tool.
  3. What needs to be assessed?
    This should be articulated in a table of specifications (TOS). The TOS will help you evaluate whether the test is representative of the topics covered during the phase of instruction. It will also help you plan the number of easy, average, and difficult questions.

Now here are specific tips I took note of during my undergraduate student seminar as a pre-service classroom teacher:

How much time can you allot for the assessment? Remember that time constraint can impact the difficulty of any assessment, so don’t forget to take this into consideration.

time for each item type
Time Needed For Each Item Type
  • Make true or false questions by writing them first as true statements. Then change them later and make them false.
  • Limit sequencing only to six items.
  • Remember that matching type questions measure the ability to judge relationships. Have one overarching theme for the choices. If answers can be repeated, indicate so in the instruction.
  • For multiple choice items, arrange choices (distracters) according to length, alphabetical order, or chronology. There must be a logic to their sequence. This helps randomize the letter answers.

    distracters layout
    Choices (distracters) should be arranged in this way for learners in the lower grades.
  • For essay questions, provide specific instructions in terms of what the student is expected to do, how many sentences should be written, and what you are looking for in their answers.
    • Answer your own essay questions first and time yourself. This will help you determine if your expectations are reasonable.
    • When checking essay questions, evaluate one question at a time. So for example, check all essay question #1 answers from all students before moving on to checking essay question #2.
    • Beware of the halo effect. Make use of blinders to counter this.
    • Make it a point to provide constructive feedback. Point out the student’s sound ideas and what he or she should continue doing. Also provide suggestions on how the question could be better answered.
    • Announce how much time is left ten minutes before the end of the test.
    • Pass papers at the same time.
    • You can reward additional points if no one talks to their seatmate during the test.
  • Review items where 10% of your class made a mistake.

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