Are students generally aware of test taking strategy or do I need to emphasize this? I have to ask because I often reuse tests and some years all the students breeze through with plenty of time, and other years it is challenging, and they might even run out of time. A test where they run out of time is essentially invalid and does not help me.

But, I think there is in those cases a failure to make the best use of the time! I tell them the point values of different items (1 pt for True / False, 4 for Multiple Choice, 5 for Fill-in words) and I say to look over the entire test at the start, to answer all the easy ones (for them) first, then go over it again to get slightly harder ones, then the hardest ones, and finally, review the answers before submitting the attempt. So, I do give them strategy.

But sometimes there is still this tragedy: someone runs out of time half-way through. My tests are almost always open book and notes (but no internet use). When I hear, right from the start, lots of page-flipping, I know it will not end well. Someone is starting at the first question (T/F is at the start, then Multi choice, then Fill-in), and giving equal attention to all of them. I think it is because, even though they know the strategy, they panic and just bear down.

To me, this is work-related learning, and we are giving workplace-relevant training, and so learning not to bear down is a good lesson.

Is there a better way to introduce and reiterate Test Taking Strategy, beyond what I have already done? How to quell their panic, when I hear the page-flipping? Too late?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "A test where they run out of time is essentially invalid and does not help me." On the contrary. This can certainly be informative of the level of learning of your students. I would ask you to consider who/what your tests are for. "When I hear, right from the start, lots of page-flipping, I know it will not end well." Then why not intervene right then? Why persist knowing that "it will not end well"? How have you reacted in those moments? I fear this is another case of an anonymous question that would benefit for OP's improving thereof but will never receive it... $\endgroup$ – Peter Mar 27 '18 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if this is deserving of a full answer, but have you thought about rearranging your questions in order of difficulty? That is, put the questions you think will be easiest first, and the ones you think will be hardest last. This would help the students who panic and forget about test taking strategy, while having no real impact on the other students. $\endgroup$ – Michael0x2a Mar 30 '18 at 2:34

Test taking is a skill that not every student has. It should be learnable with practice, but not everyone comes to the same level. This is independent of subject. Some people just freeze up, some spend too much time on inessentials, trying hard to "get it right." Some students just panic and nothing you say will alleviate that panic. Every exam is like their first ride on a zip-line or their first rappel down a sheer cliff.

Like anything else, all of your instruction about strategy will only reach some and everyone's response will be different.

However, There are two things you can do. First, my own preference is to avoid stressing tests in favor of projects for grading. Tests are useful for advising, provided that you do advise the students singly when the fall short. For grading, however, projects let students do their best work in a more measured mental state.

However, I found that open-book exams are far from optimal. The only exam I distinctly remember badly failing in College was an open-book test in Physics. The problem is that the student will study wrong before the exam and will come to depend on the book in the exam. That is why you heard the page flipping. The "facts" were in the book. I don't need them in my head.

Prior to any exam that "counts" you want students to review and practice with the material in a way that mimics what they are likely to see on the test. They can/should provide their own review materials, or you can provide them (not as effective). The nature of the problem is that test preparation for an open book test is insufficiently active. They don't do much to reinforce their own knowledge beyond, perhaps, knowing a bit about where they can find various things in the book.

Moreover, your test isn't likely to just ask them to transcribe the book's information, but to do something with knowledge learned. Open book tests actually discourage the actual learning part.

An alternative to open-book is to permit the student to bring one standard sized sheet of paper to the exam on which they may write anything they like prior to the exam. The paper should be signed by the student and handed in with the exam (largely to prevent student B from using a copy of student A's sheet). This forces them to be at least a bit active in their prep.

A second, possibly valid, use of open-book testing is the following. Assuming that the test period is about an hour, announce beforehand that for a five minute period starting at the 30 minute mark, students may consult their books and/or notes. The open-book segment needs to be short and it needs to be after students have had a chance to consider each question.

tl;dr: Consign open-book tests to the dust-bin of history.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think your tl;dr focuses on the wrong part. The OP's root problem is that the test-takers don't appropriately budget their time. It's true that open book tests have an additional component that needs to be budgeted for, but people can fall victim to poor time management even in closed-book exams. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Mar 27 '18 at 17:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang Open book just exacerbates the problem, though. Every minute page turning is a minute not spent thinking. Without the crutch of the book, you have a better shot at a more comprehensive solution - namely active learning $\endgroup$ – Buffy Mar 27 '18 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy Open-Book means that you're testing people on how to actually write useful things, instead of mindlessly regurgitating information. To use your example above of Physics, A closed-book/closed-notes test forces people to remember the dozens of physical constants that are necessary, instead of just letting them plug the numbers in where necessary. $\endgroup$ – Stack Tracer Mar 30 '18 at 21:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StackTracer, it is possible, of course, to create exam questions in which the book is essentially irrelevant, but don't discount the perverse incentive that open book exams may create for the student's study/learning process. Also, the original question seems to suggest (at least) that the questions being asked did depend on information not learned. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Mar 31 '18 at 11:25

Tests / Quizzes tend to be under 30% of the total points for a course segment (a few weeks). The rest is Lab projects that they have days to work on each one. My co-instructor has more 'performance' oriented questions on their tests, and I lean towards using the test questions provided by the textbook publisher (choosing selectively).

Recall of words and ideas is absolutely vital as a programmer, equal in importance only to being able to look things up quickly and accurately. And, that is pretty much the entirety of what I am trying to impart at this point. They will never remember everything in a single course segment, let alone the entire year. But they must end up with a tree of related ideas that prompt their memory, or they have learnt nothing at all. I admit to my ignorance in how to plant and nurture this tree.

It always mystifies me when we are looking at yet another way to use a Collection, and I say, "this is a Collection" (being careful to capitalize the word) and they look as though they have not heard of Collections relentlessly during the last 4 months in every conceivable circumstance. It's an ubiquitous concept. Get used to it.

Working under pressure is necessary. Someone will ask a question in a meeting (or a job interview) and something had better come to mind. I realize that people vary in that ability, and one of my former supervisors was not good at thinking that fast. But he got good at reformulating the question into his perception of the path to proceed, and saying, "I will get back to you right away on this." It worked. So, in fill-in questions, if the person has even a related word or concept, I give partial points. I am not an ogre.

Many times I have solved programming problems by recalling some tidbit I had read years ago, and then looking it up to get the details of how to apply it. So, open book is simply how life works, not some awful stumbling block that I am placing. But not panicking is something that every professional needs to learn. We cannot afford the results otherwise.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, but I think you are trying to put it all on the students, rather than taking responsibility for teaching them properly. Sink or Swim is a pretty brutal teaching philosophy. Admonishing them to "Be Professional" is about as valuable, in itself, as "Be Moral." You shouldn't be mystified. You should find ways to learn about your students, just as they should learn about the material. Memorization, in particular, may be (at least a bit) less important than you think. I program at a high level, but Google is my co-pilot, for example. Pressure is a mind killer for some. Try to avoid it. $\endgroup$ – Buffy Mar 29 '18 at 14:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.