Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making your test difficult, the easy way.

I teach the English majors at my university, which means that a lot of them are really good at English.  This is actually no problem, except when it comes to grading because I have to use a curve and there are a limited numbers of "A's" and "B's" available.  So, I have to make my tests quite difficult.  There are various ways to make a test hard, but the easiest way that I've found to do it is this:

Make each question all or nothing.  If my test is worth 15%, I'll have only 15 questions.  But, each question will have between 2 and 5 parts to it.  For example, 5 vocab matching things, or 3 fill in the blank with the correct verb form.  If the student gets even one part wrong, the entire question is wrong and they don't get the point.  I don't give 1/2 points and it truly is all or nothing.

The result is that student's scores are probably 20-30% lower than if I assigned 1/2 points because most students only get 1/4 blanks wrong, or 2/4 matching things incorrect and almost everybody would get at least 1/2 points for every question, instead of just nothing.

Is it fair?  I think so.  Nobody got 100% on my latest midterm exam, but quite a few students got 13/15 or 14/15.  But, they truly had to know their stuff and it was almost impossible to fake your way into this score.  Most students got around 10-11/15, which is what I wanted because that's a "D" or "C" grade, of which I can give an unlimited amount.  And those that are either terrible at English, or just didn't study got scores in the range of 3-5/15, which is actually what they should get.

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