Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teachers should make their tests fair and balanced

One of the common complaints of students is that the tests are not fair. They don't know what to study. They don't recognize the material on the test. They didn't study that.

Teachers can and should be ready to make their tests fair. You want to give every student a fair shot at passing, especially those that are making at least the minimal effort to learn. This does not mean making the tests easy. It means that students should not be blind-sided by test questions. Every question should be very familiar to those students that have studied and paid attention. Remember, not every student can be an "A" student.

So, how do you go about making your tests fair? First, let's use a general percentage of 70% as a passing grade. That means that 70% of the questions you ask MUST be ones that the average student can get correct. Those would be your "C" students. Every student should be able to pass the test, provided they did satisfactory work and study.

How about the advanced students? You don't want to make 100% of the test average questions. Just 70% as above. If your "B" is 80%, that means 20% of the questions will ones that are a little more advanced. A student must make some extra effort to be awarded a "B." As far as the other 10%, those are the advanced questions. Which will mean that a student that earns an "A" will actually deserve it. They will truly be an "A" student.

You can take even further steps to make your tests fair. Here are some tips:

Have students come up with test questions. Out the students in groups and have each group come up with two questions. Print them and pass them out to the students. Tell them you will pick several questions from this list.

Want to avoid collecting and grading homework? Give the students a homework problem list for each section in the book, and tell them that you will pick 50% of the test questions from this list. The questions will look exactly like they appear in the book. A wise student will then have an incentive to work on homework problems. The test will actually check who has been studying. If you don't want to do this for a test, it certainly makes sense for a quiz. Make the quiz 100% of questions off of the list. Don't collect homework. Just give one quiz a week.

At various times during your weekly lectures, point out questions that are sure-things for a test or quiz.

Give the students a choice. Sometimes students study one thing and overlook another. Average students will do this. So, give a test of 20 questions and tell the students to pick 15 of their choice to answer.

Don't count all points on an exam or test. This is better than giving a bonus question. Most bonus questions are answered by luck. You don't want lucky students passing. But you can give everyone extra points this way: Let's say the entire test is worth 60 points. You tell the students you are counting it out of 55 points. Everyone gets roughly 5 free points. And yes, they can get over 100%. Again, that's rewarding your best students but not penalizing your average ones. This will also eliminate any arguments over whether a question is fair or not. You are giving them a freebie. It will also avoid the students who demand to have a question regraded. You simply tell them because of the free points, no regrades.

Remember, the best thing you can do to make the tests fair, is to present material that will be tested in a way that the average student can learn, and get a passing grade.

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