exams - was pH and pKa, reading...

linden higgins linden at mail.utexas.edu
Thu Feb 12 01:01:02 EST 1998


>Julie Frugoli wrote...
>
[snip]
>>My aerobics instructor,[snip] commented on how difficult she thought the
>>multiple choice test
>>was-"not only did they  have A, B, C and D, but
>>A&B,C&D-like, you had to KNOW the answer!"  All I could do was wince!  I
>>guess a test is no longer supposed to measure one's knowledge of a subject :)
>
Cynthia Calloway:
>I am known for my multiple-multiple choice questions.  I also have been
>known to say "Mark any and all that apply".  I don't ask this much anymore
>because the outcome is generally a disaster.  I do want to grade them on the
>content, not on if they can figure out the test.  I generally have a mix of
>multiple choice, matching, short answer, and short essay.
>
>At my previous school I asked True-False and asked them to change the False
>statements to true by adding or subtracting a word.  The chairperson of the
>department said I was being unfair to the athletes, since they couldn't read
>the instructions but could answer T or F!
>
>I wish I knew of a good way to see just what the students have learned (or
>maybe I have ;) ).  Talking to them one on one seems to give me a good idea
>but with 120 students, that's difficult.

I taught 350 (wince) non-science students last semester - even short answer
exams were - or appeared to be - an impossibility if I was to get anything
else done.  However, I'm really lucky:  I was able to adapt a non-science
course taught here by Pease & Bull - they even gave me access to their exam
forms, and the program to read the scan tron, and the program to score the
exams.  These are multiple-multiple choice (none, one or all answers may be
correct).  The students don't much like them, and it took me a while to
learn to write good questions, but -- my average score for the semester was
a C (about 68%), and with story problems I really think I was forcing the
students to do more than memorize material.  In fact, memorization was
little help.  The difference between the D and the C students was primarily
_reading_ ability, as became clear when D students came in to talk to me
about the exams.

When I do this course, I also have an entrance and an exit exam - the same
quiz (10 questions) at the beginning and the end of the semester (writing
questions about classical genetics, basic concepts in evolution and basic
concepts in ecology that non-science students can understand before they've
had the course was itself a learning experience).  This way, I know that I
am getting across some basic concepts _and_ I  have data if and when anyone
complains, demonstrating that the students are learning.

I also have _written_ challenges to the exam questions - within a week of
getting the things back they can hand in an explanation of why their answer
should be considered. (I hand back a photocopy of the scantron form, a
printout of what the computer read so they can check for reading errors,
and the exam).  I find that this gives them a sense of empowerment - and it
reduces the lines outside my office after each exam!  Plus, it is really
wonderful to see the quality of the challenges improve over the course of
the semester.

If anyone is curious about the Pease & Bull or the exam type, they can
check out the Pease & Bull web site (they are trying to develop a text-less
course, and the course notes and all exams are on the web):
http://www.utexas.edu/courses/bio301c

Linden Higgins


______________________
Linden Higgins
Department of Zoology
University of Texas
Austin, TX  78712

telephone:  (512) 471-6905  FAX (512) 471-9651

linden at mail.utexas.edu





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