Tests and Testing

By Cassie Morton

pencil and X markTests help you evaluate students and assess whether they are learning what you are expecting them to learn. They help motivate students to study and set the framework for how they study. Students study in ways they think they will be tested. If they expect an exam on facts, they will memorize details. If they expect a test requiring problem solving, they will work toward integrating and applying information. Tests give you feedback on how well you are presenting the material. They also give students feedback on what they have learned and where their gaps may be.

When we think about evaluating student learning, we usually think of tests such as quizzes, mid-terms and final examinations. Faculty often use the terms quizzes, tests, and exams interchangeably. For the purposes of this module, we will mostly use the term test, though typically exams are the most comprehensive of the three and quizzes are the least. 

Regardless of the type of test you plan to give, you should line up your course learning goals and objectives and determine the best way to evaluate each of these. One suggestion is to create a grid with the course objectives down the side, and the course content along the top. Select assessment measures that adequately cover a significant sampling of these and use a variety of methods. Spend adequate amounts of time developing your tests.

 
Course Content A
Course Content B
Course Content C
Course Content D
Course Objective 1 
quiz
timed writing
letter to the editor
test
Course Objective 2 
quiz
group project
test
essay 
Course Objective 3 
quiz
outline
homework
test


Unless you are content to emphasize a recall of facts, your assessment strategies must challenge students to higher-order thinking and should include multiple  assessment strategies. Multiple choice or short answer questions are appropriate for assessing student mastery of details and specific knowledge, while essay questions can better assess comprehension, the ability to integrate and synthesize knowledge, and apply information to new situations. Bloom (1956) has developed a taxonomy of thinking skills which Fuhrmann and Grasha (1983, p. 170) have adapted for test development. Here is a brief summary of their list:

Knowledge-Remembering previously learned materials

cite

label

name

reproduce

define

list

quote

pronounce

identify

match

recite

state



Comprehension-ability to grasp the meaning of material. Answers: who? what? when? where?

alter

discover

manage

relate

change

explain

rephrase

substitute

convert

give examples

represent

summarize

depict

give main idea

restate

translate

describe

illustrate

reword

vary

interpret

paraphrase

tell why

express


Application
-ability to use learned material in new and concrete situations

apply

discover

manage

relate

classify

employ

predict

show

compute

evidence

prepare

solve

demonstrate

manifest

present

utilize

direct

     


Analysis
-ability to break down material into its component parts. Answers: how many? which? what is?

ascertain

diagnose

distinguish

outline

analyze

diagram

divide

point out

associate

differentiate

examine

reduce

conclude

discriminate

find

separate

designate

dissect

infer

determine


Synthesis
-ablity to put parts together to form a new whole. Answers why?

combine

devise

originate

revise

compile

expand

plan

rewrite

compose

extend

pose

synthesize

conceive

generalize

propose

theorize

create

integrate

project

write

design

invent

rearrange

 

develop

modify

   

Evaluation-ability to judge the value of material for a given purpose Answers how can we improve? what would happen if? 

appraise

conclude

critique

judge

assess

contrast

deduce

weigh

compare

criticize

evaluate

 

 

Willard Daggett, Director of the International Center for Leadership in Education, uses a simpler taxonomy, which he has correlated to Bloom's Taxonomy:

Type of Knowledge

Application and assessment of knowledge

Process Knowledge

(analysis, synthesis, evaluation)

Solving real world problems with unknown solutions

Procedural Knowledge

(application)

Application solving problems using procedures and formulas

Declarative Knowledge

(knowledge and comprehension)

Rote recall

Italicized words refer to Bloom's Taxonomy


The main types of tests used in higher education:

Pre-tests or knowledge survey

baby being weighedIn the academically diverse classrooms of our community colleges, it is most helpful to give a diagnostic pre-test, also known as a knowledge survey. Usually given on the first day of class, this instrument will give you and your students information on which topics they have mastered and those areas in which they may need additional review or skill building.  You may present some of the topics, key concepts, and major ideas you expect to cover in the course, and ask students to self assess their familiarity with each. 

To create a knowledge survey, take the core objectives of your course and the learning objectives of each class meeting and arrange these in the form of test items in the order of course presentation. Students then rate their knowledge to answer each item on a 3 point scale: Unable to answer question, partially able to do so or know where to find the answer, or fully able to answer. By giving the survey at the start and end of a term, any instructor can validate the learning that took place as result of their class.

You may assign a short writing assignment that will allow you to identify their strengths and weaknesses, especially if the course will involve a great deal of writing.

You may also want to give an ungraded test during the first week of class. While not exactly a pre-test, this test gives your student an idea of how you will be monitoring their learning throughout the course. Though ungraded, this test should be similar to the ones that will follow. Communicating your learning goals along with your methods for evaluating these will reduce frustration and confusion later.

Multiple Choice

ABCD imageIn American schools, these are the most widely used form of testing. While multiple choice tests can be used to test all of the Bloom Taxonomy levels of thinking, they are most widely used to test knowledge and comprehension. They can be easily and reliably scored. Good multiple-choice questions are difficult to write.

 

True-False Tests

T/F imageRandom choice will let students get the correct answer half of the time, so these are less reliable than other types of tests. Some faculty require students to write a short explanation justifying their response.

 

Essay tests

writing symbolExperiments indicate that students study more efficiently for essay type exams than for selection types of tests such as multiple choice. Where the tests can be returned with comments, essay exams may give students more practice in organized, creative thinking about a subject, with opportunities to check their thinking against the standards of someone more expert in the field. Depending on the number of questions given, the disadvantages of essay exams are the limited amount of content they assess, and the subjectivity of the grader.

 

Short Answer Tests

Well written short answer questions can test more than recall, and they are easier to grade than essay exams. Assessing more than content, they give you an opportunity to see how students express their thoughts, but not as well as essay exams.

Problem Sets

science equipment images Commonly done in math and science, these can be excellent tools to assess procedural and process thinking.

 

 

Take Home Tests

These allow students to work at home with access to books and materials. Essay questions and problem sets are the most appropriate kinds of take -home exams. Be explicit in your instructions regarding consulting with other students and the length of their answers. A variation of this is to give the students take-home questions which they answer in class.