Teaching with HEART
For most international schools, exams are now just around the corner. Teachers and administrators spend a significant amount of time constructing, putting together and analysing test papers. For some others, the exercise is not as daunting because they rely on question banks from textbooks and/or past test papers.
More than 3,000 Mathayom 3 (Grade 9) students from across the country gathered on March 9 at the Muang Thong Thani convention centre in Nonthaburi to sit the admissions test to further their studies at the prestigious Triam Udom Suksa School. CHANAT KATANYU
Whatever the case, a good test is one that correctly measures learning (i.e., a validated test) and accurately discriminates between those students who have mastered the content and required skills from those who have not. This could be achieved if each test undergoes a thorough prescreening by one trained to assess or validate individual questions in a test as well as the overall exam. A test's validity refers to how well it tests what it is intended to test. This requires a moment of intense reflection and even introspection. A proper validation demands that the test covers the lexis, skills and grammar, for example, that are covered in the course curriculum. A test that does not fairly do this is both unfair and fails to paint an accurate portrayal of what students have learned.
It should also be remembered that tests are not meant to assess teachers' abilities and success in covering contents. Rather, they are used to assess how much and how well students have learned. As such, a good test does not assess students on content and skills they have not been taught. Some teachers wrongly think that throwing in one or two trick questions (questions outside the domain of students' learning experiences) makes a test tougher and better. On the contrary, this is in direct violation of sound assessment principles.
While writing a test item is relatively easy, constructing good test items requires technical knowledge of the principles of assessment. If not carefully constructed, test items would be exposed to several weaknesses that injure the overall validity, and hence the usefulness, of a test.
For example, poorly constructed True/False questions often force students to guess, which fails to measure what learning has taken place. Similarly, a too-wordy test item measures reading ability/comprehension instead of the desired goal of measuring a particular knowledge, comprehension ability or skill.
For these reasons, teachers need to be cautious about test item construction. Several principles guide the formulation of good test item writing, and are most helpful when practised regularly.
Finally, be sure to proofread the test items, lest you end up with one similar to this multiple choice question that, according to one writer to the "Education" section of the Bangkok Post, was allegedly on the Ministry of Education's culture course and teacher's examination. The question reportedly read: "A man with no hair is: (a) brown; (b) black; (c) red-headed; (d) blonde". The question, as written, is impossible to answer.
As indicated by the above example, it is difficult to answer questions that are not clear in meaning. Apart from causing frustration, they lead to multiple interpretations and differences in response. Vague items always fail to measure learning accurately. Hence, a good test item should be clearly stated.
For example, for a True/False item, a teacher constructed the item "People change" in an attempt to gauge if students had understood the concept that humans continue to grow physically with age. A better item would have been "People change physically with age".
Keep it simple
In an attempt to impress supervisors, students and parents, some teachers unknowingly use difficult words in their test items. Unless it is a test to measure mastery of vocabulary taught during the course, uncommon vocabulary should be avoided. Remember, a good test measures only what it is supposed to measure, not anything else!
Consider time efficiency
Although achievement tests used in schools are not speed tests, we often get the impression that students rush through questions every time they write a test. It is important to provide ample time for students to attempt all questions. Sometimes this is not possible because of the way test items are constructed.
For example, if a matching exercise runs on to the next page, students will have to constantly go back and forth the two pages to match answers to questions. This consumes time and may cause students to rush through other sections.
Multiple-choice items are best presented in a vertical format, rather than horizontal. This makes it easier for students to read the stem and to choose and circle an answer. Additionally, sufficient space between items and sections allows students to isolate any one question with ease. This, too, saves the precious time that is needed to succeed in a test.
It does matter!
All these may seem like insignificant issues. However, each of the above-mentioned points adds up to determine the success or failure of a test in accomplishing its purpose of measuring students' learning.
Dr Edward Roy Krishnan is the director of strategic planning at Wells International School (http://www.wells-school.com). He also lectures in the Graduate School of Psychology, Assumption University. He can be contacted at email@example.com. To access additional articles by him, visit http://www.affectiveteaching.com.