Enhancing Learning on Exams
The Teaching Professor had a very provocative article on some ideas for enhancing learning on exams. In her efforts to enhance the learning potential of examinations, a professor tried several different testing methods, a few of which are summarized here. First, she allowed students to help her develop her exams. After students had helped generate a list of important concepts, she asked them to construct questions to assess their understanding of those concepts. Questions were written on the board and the class as a whole would discuss answers to them. The professor found this activity particularly helpful because it showed her how students often interpreted questions differently than she imagined they would. This knowledge helped her construct better questions subsequently.
The second strategy she employed was a "second-chance" exam. When she gave an hour-exam, each exam had a blank sheet of paper attached to the back. Students could write on that paper any question whose answer they felt unsure of. Students then removed the sheet from the exam when they handed in the exam. They were allowed to take the sheet home with them and prepare answers to those questions, consulting any resource except the teacher. The sheet had to be submitted during the next class period. Students who had gotten questions wrong on the exam but right on their "second-chance" sheet, were granted half-credit. This technique did much to reduce anxiety over exams and to focus students more on learning and less on grade. It also made the exam a more effective learning experience.
Speaking of a focus on learning--the other interesting technique mentioned here was a creative use of the pre and post-test. At the beginning of the course the professor gave a short pre-test that she never returned or discussed with students. The same exam (covering some basic concepts and techniques of the course) was administered at the end of the semester. Students were given back both exams at the same time, a tangible proof to them that learning had occurred. Again, this seemed like a very concrete way to help students focus on learning as well as to recognize that learning occurs even when a class has been hard or frustrating.
The original article that talks about these experiments with testing is as follows: Laura Deeter, "Incorporating student-centered learning techniques into an introductory plant identification course," NACTA Journal, 47-52. I thought this was an interesting set of ideas that might interest some of you.