Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rethinking Final Exams

It's Spring time, and while the students think that summer is almost here, you see final exams looming up ahead. Before you make a multiple choice test that covers every topic for the whole year, consider the purpose of a final.

A final exam should assess the student's mastery of the material and readiness to move on to the next class. A final should not be a painful rite of passage. A long test that asks the student to regurgitate information rewards students for cramming facts into their short term memory. Furthermore, some students just take tests well - they have that type of intelligence. Getting an A on a multiple choice does not necessarily mean that the student has fully comprehended the information from the class.

Start by writing down what a student should know at the end of your class. If a successful student were to leave your class, what skills would she master? What skills should she be familiar with? What facts should she know?

Now, think broadly about assessments. What would a student need to do to show that he really learned the important lessons from your course? Perhaps the student could make a movie, a timeline, a mural, a one act play. Consider asking the student to make a Facebook fan page for a person from history, a literary character, an important mathematician, or foreign country. Board games, trivia games, and Jeopardy are all fun ways for students to show off their knowledge. Paired with an essay or some other written portion, you should be able to judge if the student has comprehended the content at least as well as a traditional exam.

When you make a final assessment more authentic, the students will enjoy pouring more effort into it. If you give your students a choice, each one can select a project that fits with his or her learning style. Yes, these projects may take longer to grade, but when have you ever taken the easy way out?