Testing: The Details

When to Test

Tests are important in making the goals of a course concrete and influencing student methods of learning. I give an ungraded quiz during the first week and a graded test after the third or fourth week of a 14-week semester. To reduce stress I weight early tests very little in determining the final grade. An early test gets students started – they don’t delay their studying until the conventional midterm exam. And it will help you to identify problems early while they are still remediable.

Constructing the Test

Choosing the Type of Question – Problems, short-answer items, essay items, true-false items, multiple-choice and matching items.

How Many Questions Should You Use? Depends on the type and difficulty of each question; and how long the class time is. 1 minute per item for multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank; 2 minutes per short-answer question requiring more han a sentence answer; 10-15 minutes for a limited essay question; half-hour to an hour for broader question requiring more than a page or two to answer.

Tests From the Student Perspective – Students equate grades with self-worth.

Reducing Student Frustration and Aggression

Most beginning teachers find the aggression that students direct against them after a test very disturbing.

Helping Students Become Test-Wise – Good morale builder is spending 15 minutes the day before the first test telling students how to take a test and familiarizing them with the format.

Taking Multiple-Choice Tests – the student taking this kind of test is essentially in the same position as a poker player. Best position is to know the material; when you don’t, certain techniques may help. First answer all the items you know – going through the complete test once in this way will suggest the answers to questions that might have been difficult had they been answered in numerical order.

Taking Essay Tests – outline your answer before writing it. This provides a check against the common error of omitting one part of the answer.

Administering the Test – minimize the amount of time the students have to wait for the test.

Alternative Testing Models

Group Testing – have students take the test on their own; after turning in their copy, they get into a group (usually the one they’ve been studying with all semester) and go through the test again to come up with a group response to the test. This gives students immediate feedback.

Online Testing – can tailor tests to individuals using algorithms, however it is difficult to see if students are cheating and/or if the student is who he/she says he/she is.

What to Do About Cheating

Most students  would rather not cheat, but the pressures for good grades are so intense that many students feel that they, too, must cheat if they believe that other students are cheating and/or that the teacher does not care. Thus, a student’s decision to cheat is peer influence. This is true. I saw this repeatedly in Prague and could not believe my f-ing eyes. What a bunch of lemmings…which makes no sense for people who think they will be filmmakers.  Certainly students see on the news successful cheaters in the real world constantly getting away without severe penalties. Hmmm.

How do we prevent cheating? Reduce the pressure; develop group norms supporting honesty (duh). “Although only a minority of classes vote for the honor system, a discussion of academic dishonesty is itself useful in helping students recognize why cheating is bad.” Well….why??? It’s amazing to me that the book says nothing about the fact that a student who actually learns the material not only does not have to cheat, but has actually LEARNED the material. Isn’t that reason enough not to cheat? And why shouldn’t a student with straying eyes be publicly denounced? Cheating is never acceptable. Sorry. That is something that remains black and white in my world.

After the Test

Grading Objective Tests

Grading Essay Questions

Helping Yourself Learn from the Test

Returning Test Papers

Helping Students Learn from a Test

Dealing with an Aggrieved Student

What Do You Do About the Student Who Missed the Test?


1. Consider using both graded and ungraded tests and moving from less frequent tests to more frequent, where each test can count less.

2. Select question types that target your educational goals.

3. Prepare your students to take the test.

4. Create a class atmosphere that values academic honesty and support and discourages cheating.

5. Develop grading strategies for essay questions so that you won’t shy away from using them.

6. Be prepared to address students’ complaints about test scores in a way that helps them learn.

7. Learn from the test yourself and show your students how to learn from it as well.