Friday, October 28, 2016

Techniques for Taking Multiple-Choice Tests

  1. Read the question and try to answer it BEFORE looking at the answers.

    Many students find it helpful to actually cover the answers with a bookmark so they cannot see the answers until after they have thought of an answer for themselves.

    1. The capital of Alberta is

    Read the question. You know the answer is “Edmonton”. Start by looking for “Edmonton” among the answers. By thinking of the answer first, you are less likely to be fooled by a wrong answer.

    1. The capital of Alberta is
          A) Ottawa
          B) Calgary
          C) Edmonton
          D) Lethbridge

    Sometimes, the answer you expected will not be there:

    1. The capital of Alberta is
          A) a
          B) b
          C) e
          D) l

    Look at the alternatives, and choose the one that answers the question, even it if is not quite what you expected. ("A" is the capital letter in Alberta.)

  2. Make sure you look at ALL the answers before choosing:

    1. Edmonton can be described as Alberta’s
          A) capital city
          B) gateway to the north
          C) largest theatrical center
          D) all of the above

    Even though (A) and (B) are true, (D) is the correct answer. It is important to read all the answers, and not just take the first correct answer you see.

  3. Plan ahead.

    If a test includes both multiple-choice and written response questions, divide your time based on the number of marks allocated to each section.

    If a test includes both multiple-choice and essay questions, read the essay question first, then answer the multiple-choice questions, then return to the essay. This allows your subconscious to work on the essay question while you are doing the multiple-choice questions, and will make it easier to start on the essay. The multiple-choice questions themselves might also provide clues, information, or ideas that you can use in answering the essay question.

  4. Do not spend too much time on any one question.

    Some students end up rushing through questions at the end of the test because they spent too much time trying to answer one question early on. Remember that each multiple-choice question is worth the same number of marks, and so you should divide your time equally between all the multiple-choice questions.

    Sometimes a question will seem to have no right answer:

    2. The capital of Alberta is
          A) Red Deer
          B) Calgary
          C) Taber
          D) Lethbridge

    There may not be a right answer; the test writer may have made a mistake. It is important not to waste too much time trying to answer an impossible question. Choose an answer at random, but circle the question number so you can come back to it later if you have extra time. Go on to the next question.

    If a question is too hard, or you just do not know the answer, choose an answer at random and come back when you have completed all the questions you do know. Use whatever time is left over at the end of the test to tackle these time consuming questions.

  5. Do not keep changing your answer.

    Sometimes a question will seem to have two right answers:

    1. Which of the following is a capital city?
          A) Ottawa
          B) Calgary
          C) Edmonton
          D) Lethbridge

    Choose the answer that seems best to you (Ottawa?) and move on to the next question. Do not keep changing your mind. Research shows that your first choice was probably the right one. Most people who change their answers will change from a correct one to a wrong answer. Only change your answer if you are absolutely sure you made a mistake. (For example, if another question on the test suddenly reminds you of the right answer.)

  6. If the question asks you something you do not know, see if one of the other questions can provide a clue to the right answer.

    It is often possible to remind yourself of an answer by remembering the rest of the lesson in which that concept was taught. Since tests often closely follow the order in which the content was taught, it is sometimes possible to remind yourself of the answer by looking at the neighbouring questions.

    Sometimes questions will provide direct hints about other questions. For example, question 10 might be "In what year did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor?" and question 15 might be, "What advance warning did the Americans have of the Dec 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor?" Question 15 then provides the likely answer to question 10.

  7. If the question asks you something you do not know, see if you can get rid of any of the wrong answers before you guess:

    3. The capital of Alabama is
          A) Montgomery
          B) Birmingham
          C) Edmonton
          D) Ottawa

    You may not know anything about Alabama, but you do know that Edmonton and Ottawa are Canadian cities, and so are almost certainly wrong answers for this question. By crossing out Edmonton and Ottawa, you only have to guess between (A) or (B). That means you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, just by guessing.

    [The answer is (A). Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama, but Montgomery is the capital.]

    By carefully eliminating answers you know are wrong, you can increase your chances of guessing correctly.

    Imagine that you only know the answers to half the questions on a test. Normally, your score would be 50%. But if you can eliminate one wrong answer for each question you are unsure about, your score would be 66%. If you can eliminate two wrong answers for each question you are unsure about, you could raise your score to 75%.

  8. After you have finished the test, go back to those questions you circled as being too hard or having no right answer.

    See if you can answer them now. Take as much time as you have. Never leave a test early, unless you are sure you have answered every question correctly.

    If you still cannot answer the question, then guess. You have a 25% chance of getting it right anyway (on a four-choice multiple-choice question); more if you can eliminate one or more of the wrong answers. Never leave a blank on a multiple-choice test.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Studying for Tests

  1. Begin studying for a test by reviewing the course outline.
    • Check to see if the instructor has identified course goals. These will tell you what the instructor thinks the course is about. It is obviously helpful to know what the instructor believes are the important skills and concepts to be learned in the course, since these are likely to be the focus of the examination. (Where these do not closely match, one has good grounds for a grade appeal.)
    • Check the course outline for the list of required and optional readings for the portion of the course covered in the current test, and ensure you are familiar with these materials.
    • Check the course outline for web pages/Blackboard/WebCT/Moodle, podcasts, videos or other on-line materials for which you are responsible. Do not assume these will have been mentioned in class.
    • Check to see if the instructor has identified how the examination will be marked. Some instructors include scoring rubrics for written response questions within the course outline.
    • A few instructors may include essay examination questions in their course outlines; if they do, these should guide your note taking and course reading throughout the semester.
  2. Check your own notes to see if the instructor has identified particular concepts or skills as likely candidates for the test.
    • Always highlight in your notes any time an instructor says, “This will be on your test”. Always record any discussion of the examination or review of sample questions by the instructor.
    • Always ask your instructor what will be on the test; they will often tell you.
    • Ask to borrow notes from your peers for any classes you missed in case those were the classes in which the instructor discussed the upcoming examination, or reviewed key concepts and skills.
  3. Review the textbook and other required readings for the course.
    • Read the introduction and conclusion of each chapter to remind yourself what they are about. Quickly skim the introductory and concluding paragraphs of each section of the chapter; skim topic sentences of each paragraph of sections that you do not recall immediately. (This assumes you have actually read the material during the course.)
    • Use the table of contents and the index to identify key pages in the text or reading and concentrate on those sections most relevant to the course goals/topics, rather than re-reading the entire text word-for-word.
  4. Predict what will be on the test by asking yourself what you would put on a test to examine the knowledge and skills required in this portion of the course.
    • Some students find it useful to study with one or more peers so that they may quiz each other to identify strengths and weaknesses to more finely tune what they need to study further. For discussion courses, it is often useful to debate topics identified in the course outlines with peers prior to an examination to help identify relevant arguments and to strengthen one’s own position.
    • If the course includes another assignment that addresses some of the skills/knowledge taught in this portion of the course, these aspects may be downplayed on the examination; the examination is likely to emphasize those skills and concepts not already covered in the other assignment.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Great Examples of Bad Test Questions

[Reprint of a post from another blog that maybe fits here better...]

As an evaluation instructor, alumni often send me examples of atrocious examinations they encounter in their subsequent courses. (Most of our alumni go on to a second undergraduate degree or graduate work.) Graduates of my exam-making course generally do very well on other people's exams, because once one knows how to write good examination questions oneself, it is easy to spot the errors in poorly written questions, and so be able to work out the answers. (See for examples of what I mean.) On the other hand, my graduates also become hypercritical of sloppy exam-writing, and are often offended by the poor evaluation technique of otherwise excellent instructors. And thus my collection of really bad examinations continues to grow as alumni mail me the poor examples they encounter in other programs.

This week a former student sent me a wonderfully awful test from which I have drawn the following examples. (I won't, for obvious reasons, identify the campus that that student is now on, but suffice to say, this is from an experienced instructor at a legitimate North American university of some little repute, and not in any way an exceptional or unusual case.)

Mummification is first mentioned in 2nd Dynasty texts.
A) True
B) False
C) Maybe

Okay, ignore for the moment the embarrassment of a university instructor using true and false questions, how can one have a "maybe" category in a true/false items?! The whole point of true/false is that they address absolutes. The maybe category is invalid because a case can always be made for 'maybe' -- in this case, that there may well be other texts that have yet to be discovered. Since some questions on this test are true/false and others true/false/maybes, I would suspect "maybe" as the correct alternative anyway, since the instructor probably used it in those cases where there is some existing debate in the field (say an ambiguous reference in some earlier text that may or may not refer to mumification) but it doesn't really matter &emdash; given a "maybe" in a true false question, I can always justify it as the correct answer. It will always win any formal grade appeal.

Old Kingdom Kings did no trade with Asiatics.
a) Not True
b) Not False

The classic double negative question! I have been looking for one of these for years! All the test construction textbooks warn against the use of a double negative (negative in both stem and alternatives) but I have never actually seen a real example of one of these before. Evaluation nstructors have always had to make up our own examples, and students always say, "Oh, nobody would really do that, would they?" and now at last I have a real example.

"Despite his reputation as a tomb robber, Belzoni was nevertheless a fine archaeologist".
A) True
B) False

The archetypal "opinion" question, the ultimate taboo in true/false item writing. Again, I have been looking for an example like this for quite a while. True/false questions can only be used for testing absolutes, not opinions, since one can always make the case for the other side (however tenuously) and we do not score people on their opinions in a democracy. In a formal grade appeal, the student will always win.

The rest of the test is of similarly disappointing quality. Every campus has some kind of Teaching Development Center (or at least a Teaching Development Committee, if the campus is too small to afford dedicated staff) that sponsors 'how to' workshops on instruction and assessment techniques, but of course those that need the workshops are never the ones who attend.

The sad thing is that the former student who sent me this test had been absolutely raving to me about what a wonderful professor this was and what a great course and how much the student was enjoying the class, prior to the test. Afterwards, the student was so disappointed with being robbed of the opportunity to demonstrate the deep learning achieved in that class, that their enthusiasm was considerably eroded. The student still considers that professor an all time favorite, but then this is a student motivated by a thirst for knowledge rather than grades, and so perhaps more willing then most to forgive such tragic flaws.