a Test Lisa
as it may seem in these days of excessive standardized testing,
I actually enjoy creating, administering, and correcting my
own classroom-based tests. If I can develop interesting and
provocative questions, I open a new window into my students’
thinking. (I never use multiple choice questions because they
tell me very little about what goes on inside my students’
heads.) To me, the key to a good test is to include several
different types of questions that probe students’ knowledge
in a variety of creative ways. Here are some of my favorite
types of test questions:
I usually begin a test with a set of vocabulary-related
matching or fill-in-the-blank type questions. These questions
aren’t very creative, but they help students warm up
and gain confidence because they don’t require much
thinking. (They are also very quick for me to grade, a blessing
since the rest of my tests tend to be very time-intensive.)
These questions let me know if students have a basic recall
of the important terms of the unit.
I like to include quotes and ask students to explain
who is speaking and in what situation. The most obvious place
to use quotes is to include actual quotes in a literature
or history test, but you can get very creative with hypothetical
quotes as well. In history, you can include fictitious quotes
that represent the perspectives of different groups in society.
For example, “The British have no right to tax my tea.
We don’t have any representatives in Parliament,”
might represent the perspective of a Patriot in the American
Revolution. In science and math, you can use quotes as identification
tools. “I am a metallic element that is also a liquid,”
could be included in a test on the elements, while “I
am a two-digit prime number. The sum of my digits is two,”
could be included in a test on prime and composite numbers.
True-False: This type of question provides a statement
that students must identify as true or false. (In math, you
can provide a problem that the student must identify as correct
or incorrect.) However, unlike a regular true-false question,
if the statement is false, the student must explain why it
is false and rewrite it to make it true. This is a big improvement
on the standard true-false question because the student must
explain the underlying concept.
For this type of question, I juxtapose two terms, and the
students must fully explain the relationship between them.
The words might be opposites, like urban / rural; the words
might have a cause and effect relationship like potato famine
/ immigration; or the words might have share both similarities
and differences, such as mass / weight. I like this type of
question because it goes beyond isolated definitions to explore
the connections between concepts. Although students usually
need some explanation of how to do these questions, they never
fail to surprise me by seeing interesting relationships that
I hadn’t noticed.
and Diagrams: Depending on the topic, students can
draw or label maps or diagrams and then give a written explanation.
This type of question is particularly good for visual learners.
Organizers: If your students consistently use graphic
organizers such as Venn diagrams in class, you can also put
test questions in this format. You can have students fill
in their own information, or you can provide the facts you
want students to categorize. For example, in a test on Native
Americans, I provided facts about different regional groups,
and students had to enter the facts in the correct place on
a graphic organizer.
Answer: Sometimes you want students to answer basic
questions in a few sentences. It’s not a terribly creative
format, but it can be effective.
Because students will be asked to write essays throughout
their school careers, I try to include an essay question on
every test. To ease the pressure a little, I often give students
the chance to choose one of two possible questions. Since
an essay is usually worth more points than any other question,
I don’t want students to be disproportionately penalized
for a knowledge gap in one area.
to help students organize their essays by stating the question
in a way that clearly shows how to structure the response.
In fact, for younger students and at the beginning of the
year with older ones, I will go so far as to state what students
should include in each paragraph. As students become more
proficient in structuring their own essays, I include less
guidance in the question. For example, on a test on immigration,
I used the following essay question that provides quite a
bit of structure.
base of the Statue of Liberty is a poem:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send those, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
essay, analyze whether or not the promise in this
poem came true for immigrants to America in the 1800’s.
Be sure to include the following:
the poem means
immigrants’ home lives were like in the 1800’s
immigrants’ work lives were like in the 1800’s
analysis of whether or not the promise came true for them
essay questions require students to use higher-level thinking
skills by comparing and contrasting, analyzing, or evaluating.
In the sample question, for instance, students had to use
the details of immigrants’ experiences to argue whether
or not America lived up to its promise to them.