Its that time of the year again when staff and schools roll out examinations as a way of assessing the students learning. Examinations are a useful tool in summative assessment, but of course they are not the only tool in the tool kit.
I have been thinking about the advice I give to staff about examinations to support them in making these assessments as useful and beneficial as possible.
My first question would be “do you need an examination? are there better ways of assessing the learning and development of the student?” the answer is invariably yes to both questions. Often we are required to use examination as a tool of assessment and yes there may be better ways but this is one of the ways we have been told to use.
The next piece of advice is this…
Write the examination and the mark scheme simultaneously.
To often we write a question and discover after its gone to print that its unanswerable, beyond the scope of learning, too simple, too hard or is not identifying the aspect of learning we wanted it to. If you can’t write the answer as you develop the question how are your students meant to.
Do my marking descriptors allow the students to achieve or have I written them in such a way to mean a student can only achieve in one way? Am I limiting the students to a low grade by the criteria I have written, is it a “they ahve to do this and this and this and this and this…..” and if they miss out on one point they have failed even if they show higher level understanding.
Does the question allow the student to show depth and extent of learning?
This obviously does not apply to multi-choice or bubble test questions, but does the question allow the student to demonstrate their depth and breadth of understanding to show a progression from…
Identify –> Outline –> Describe –> Explain –> Analyse –> Evaluate
Am I expecting the students to be multi-lingual?
Do my students have to understand two languages – the language of assessment and the language of my subject. How many of my students are lost before they have started because they do not understand the language of assessment.
If I was to ask what is the difference between describe and explain would they know? My students are provided with definitions of the assessment terms on the cover of their examination –
- Outline – give a brief account;
- Describe – give a detailed account;
- Explain – give a detailed account including causes, reasons or mechanisms.
- and so on
Are the questions structured and balanced?
is there an appropriate balance between lower order thinking and higher order thinking in the number of questions.
|Lower order command terms
||Higher order command terms
|state, list, outline, describe, explain, annotate, define, calculate
||evaluate, analyse, judge, critique, compare, contrast, formulate, construct, discuss, justify, to what extent
I ask my colleagues to proof my examination.
I ask them to please ask these questions as they are working through the examinations.
• Does it make sense?
• Does it suit the audience?
• Does it flow from lower order to higher order questions? from topic to topic?
• What is the purpose of the task, question or instruction? Does it show the learning outcomes?
• Does the weighting match the complexity of the task?
• Is it achievable? allow the students to show excellence?
• Is the examination manageable and realistic for the time frame?
• Is the coverage of the examination suitable in terms of the students learning