Tests That Teach: How Exams Can Be More Than Mere Evaluations

by Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Special thanks to Jade Burris for sharing this New York Times article by Benedict Carey.

Our typical understanding of quizzes, tests, and exams is that they are useful tools for evaluating how well students have grasped the material we are trying to teach them. In, “Why Flunking Exams is Actually a Good Thing”, Benedict Carey looks at a long trail of psychological research and theory (starting with Francis Bacon in 1620) in order to show how testing—in particular pre-testing—primes the brain to learn better. It’s a bit of a long read, but it’s worth the effort. The article suggests some pretty practical, research-based ways that you can use tests to boost your students’ learning rather than just calculate their grade.

Read the full article here.

What are your thoughts? How would you feel about giving students a pre-final on day 1?

5 thoughts on “Tests That Teach: How Exams Can Be More Than Mere Evaluations

  1. Great article! I think short, low stakes testing throughout the semester really helps my students. This semester, I have started making my homework electronically in blackboard where the students get instant feedback whether their answer is correct or not. They can take the homework as many times as they would like and still have to hand in their written work for credit. This allows the student to have instant feedback on whether or not their answers are right and allows me to analyze which questions they have the most difficulty with. I am hoping this will help my students master the material. Reading this article makes me wonder if I should ask the students to attempt the homework before we discuss it in class….

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  2. Cory, your idea about making students attempt the homework before discussing the material in class has actually become one of my guiding principles this semester. Namely, I’ve made it a goal to never be the one to introduce a new topic to my students. Their homework is no longer being used as a way to gauge their understanding of what happens in class; it’s being used as a way to force them to interact with the reading, media, or other learning materials. When they come to class, we reinforce what they have struggled through for homework. And then, at the end of class they complete an exit ticket to assess their grasp of the material.

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      • The exit tickets are the assessment/reflection on what they learn in class.

        Pretty much every class has HW due to make sure they have engaged the material and an exit ticket to get them to reflect on it.

        Those are just the formative assessments, of course. Eventually they’ve got to do the essay or other summative assessment that demonstrates that they can grasp and apply all of the learning objectives at a higher-level.

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