Sunday, 31 January 2016

Top 10 Ways to Reinvent the Test or Exam

So as I dive into my assessment course for my Master's program I am reading articles about testing and examination.  There is lots of debate about whether or not we should be testing or examining our students.  Lots of students do not perform well on tests.  How does continued failure support their learning?  A few thoughts occurred to me while I was reading: Perhaps we are using exams and tests in the wrong way?  Here are 10 reasons and ways to reinvent the exam or test in your classroom.

Exams are useful for some students so why ditch them because some students do not perform well?

This sounds extremely controversial to me but I am willing to put this thought out into the digital universe.  Well-designed, appropriate exams worked well for me and approximately 80% of the people in my high school graduating class.  Why ditch the exam when it works well for most?

We need to look at how we administer exams.

There.  I said it.  Let's take the very valid form of assessment and reinvent it for every learner.  Let's turn test taking and exam writing on its head.

Make sure each exam and test is well-designed tool in your assessment toolkit.  Be sure to include a variety of questions that cover Bloom's Taxonomy.

I attended high school during the 90's.  When I reflect on how my teachers assessed my learning I was impressed with the variety of assessment tools they used.  Each assessment was appropriately designed to help provide my teachers with information about my learning.  In social studies we learned about different cultures; we compared and contrasted them to our own.   We created brochures and wrote essays.  In Language Arts whenever we completed a novel study, read a play, or studied an essay/poem we would analyze, apply, understand and evaluate through discussion and essays.  Occasionally we had to memorize appropriate literary terms and were tested on these, as it was applicable to our study of the literature.  Sometimes, we were evaluated through test format if it was deemed appropriate.  In mathematics we focused on the rote skill.  We had to take procedures and apply them to different problems with differing variables on a continuous basis.  Often we were solving word problems and practicing our application skills.  In science, we focused on inquiry and experimentation to back up ideas and concepts.  Overall, the way my teachers chose to evaluate my performance matched with what we were learning.  Tests and exams were one important facet in a box of assessment tools.

Every exam/test should be reviewed by students so they can see their mistakes and continue their learning.

On her blog, Brilliant or Insane: Education on the Edge, Angela Stockman writes, “The only summative assessment that benefits learners is one that also serves as a formative assessment” (para. 4).  When I read this statement I reflected on my own experience with takings tests as a student and giving tests as a teacher.  I considered it an extremely important learning experience when I was handed back the test and as a class we went over the answers; the summative became formative and I was able to progress into the next assignment with a better understanding of how I should proceed.

Every teacher must be involved in the creation of State/Provincial Testing.

Back when I was a student in the good old '90s, when we took a test, sometimes we were able to go over the test to see where we went wrong.  Thus, the test morphed from summative assessment to formative.  The only time that this did not apply was when we took the Provincial exam.  First, my teachers did not create the exams.  I could sense their frustration and helplessness in this reality.  However, they were aware of the format of the exam so they could do their best to provide assignments and instruction based on what would best help us to succeed on the exam.  Still, they had little control over what questions would be asked and if they would be a fair assessment of knowledge.  Unless every teacher has a part in creating a provincial exam/standardized test the exam cannot possibly be fair.  Teachers need to be involved in creating Provincial exams/ Standardized tests to help plan curriculum.  Second, our exams were never returned to us; we were never able to see where we went wrong on the exam after they were marked to help us continue our learning.

Tests and exams should be equally as important to teachers as they are to students.

When I administer an exam to my grade one students, I always tell them that one purpose of the exam is to see as a teacher what I need to reteach and help them with – the exam is for me as well as for them to evaluate their own learning.  Students need to be evaluated on more than just the exam.  It can be a tool but not the only form of assessment.

Students should write and submit reflections on mistakes and learning once exams are returned.

In his article Assessment as learning, Steve Maharey writes, “Relying on testing and exams too heavily leads to students being compared with one another rather than finding out where they are weak and where they are strong so their performance can be constantly improved” (para. 13).  Perhaps we do not need to do away with exams but evaluate how they are delivered.  I would suggest that exams not only be followed with a review of correct answers but also supplemented with a teacher marked student reflection on additional learning achieved from reviewing the exam.  The process of delivering exams needs to be re-examined rather than ditching a valuable tool.  I always tell my students that the purpose of the exam is to see as a teacher what I need to reteach and help them with – the exam is for me as well as for them to evaluate their own learning.  Students need to be evaluated on more than just the exam.  It can be a tool but not the only form of assessment. 

Exams are still relevant in life outside of school.

Why does education need one type of assessment?  This learning record or portfolio might work well for some learners and very well be the preferred method of assessment.  However, for those academics, the exam is a tried and true means of learning and taking that learning to the next level.  Why throw away the exam when we could simply diversify the options?  The reality is exams are still a part of real life – we must take driver’s exams and serving it right exams, we must memorize rules of the road and rules in society.  Exams have value in the bigger assessment picture.

Let's not assign a grade every time!  Make it a part of the student portfolio!

Which brings me back to my own grade one classroom where I give a paper and pencil assessment twice a year to help me write report cards. I have never thought to review the correct answers with my students following the assessment. I will be sure to do this in the future. However, I never assign a grade to these exams; as I create report cards I peruse the exams, while I am perusing a collection of other work each student has completed to give an overall picture of each student’s learning. I am beginning to wonder if this paper and pencil assessment is really part of a portfolio or an actual exam. What defines an exam? Is it how an exam is designed, how it is delivered, or how it is used to assess?


Exams and tests do not have to involve writing or reading.

With technology an exam could easily be designed with questions that are "read" to students by the computer and where students record their answers verbally.  Perhaps we just need to rethink the design of exams.  We need to make them less traditional and more current for today's 21st century learners.

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