Monday, March 8, 2010

Give 'em essay tests?

Yes, another grade-turn-in-deadline has passed. And No, I did not make the deadline today. Just like always. But at least I didn't get the call from the registrar.

Its seems only last Fall that I was lamenting about how I really need to change my tests to something easier to grade. In Pet Class (60 students) I give 150 point tests, 20 points of which are an essay question- of which they know in advance. I tell them I give the essay question because their future will always involve explaining the subject to others, and that I want them to get good at formulating their thoughts in a clear and succinct manner. Mainly, they learn to write in the manner I like. Judge for yourself by this blog...

2/3 of the tests are multiple choice and I go back and forth between having them do a scantron (bubble) sheet and computer grade it, or just grade it myself. I'm equivocal on this.

The other portion is generally short answer or labeling, and I give a reasoning question as extra credit, often requiring a written response.

In any case, it takes me VERY LONG to grade these tests. Every time I grade these tests, I grumble about making things hard for myself and being inefficient, wasting my own time. OTOH, I do believe they learn from the writing, and if they wanted to take all scantron tests, they could have gone to a much larger school. I'm still convinced that this is one of the things I can do here at a small liberal arts school where they pay more tuition to get more of my time and consideration.

But is it sustainable for me?? Can I get my tests back in enough time for there to be good feedback? Or are the students "so over" the material by the time I get their test graded that it's all for naught? And why do I have this debate with myself at minimum 4 times per year, and I am still not be able to change?!?!?!?

1 comment:

  1. I'm a postdoc, and have only taught one class so take this with a grain of salt, but you seem to want feedback. I've never had students look a comments on written tests - so I basically feel I'm wasting my time with essay tests. Also, students understand ideas a lot better when they can go look up concepts when writing essays - otherwise they know they don't understand the info but don't get the chance to learn while writing. I'd go with take-home written assignments (really short ones!) and all scantron tests. That way you're testing whether they understand the info (ie they can't just go look it up), but you can have a high standard for explanation in their writing. Also, comment on flaws and demand that flaws on essay A are fixed in essay B - reward fixes by circling and praising improvement. For grading purposes you can also put essays early enough that they aren't at deadline time, and it gives students a better chance to learn material they will be tested on.