Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Test Preparation (or not)

So, I threw the honors physics classes a bit of a curveball last week, on the day of the big (scary) test that was to cover electrostatics (static electricity, E fields, and potential), magnetism, and circuits.  The material's less familiar to students than that of mechanics, and more abstract, which is where the scary part comes in.

The test was not an "I ask you questions, you give me answers" form, but instead was more of a "show me that you understand some subset of the standards that we covered in these units."  It's very open-ended, and students couldn't get to every standard that we covered, but there are definite advantages to the "let me show you what I know" approach.  I like this type of format better as a reassessment, but I thought, given the crazy schedules of students and teachers in May and the general tone of the class, that this was a good solution for this particular day.

Ordinarily, I don't like to throw big wrenches into the process like this; if I'm going to radically change the test format for a test, I'll give advance notice, but this seemed like a better solution overall at the moment.

Before the test, however, I asked the students to fill out a short questionnaire about how they had prepared for the (normal format, as far as they knew) test.

The first part asked them to allocate their test prep time into percentages, based on the activities that they used to prepare for the test.

  • Reading the text

  • Reading my old notes from class

  • Reading the emailed notes from class

  • Getting help from peers

  • Helping peers

  • Getting help from the teacher

  • Reassessments

  • Reworking old problems

  • Working new problems

  • Other: ________________

  • The results were:
    Online Graphing

    * The "other" on the chart is mostly "worked new problems," along with two write-ins of conceptual review and outside websites

    There are some interesting trends here:
    • I'd call about 52% of these activities (working problems, working with me, helping each other) active, which means that they're good things to do.
    • 48% are therefore passive.  These types of work (reviewing notes, text, etc.) are particularly troublesome, because students feel like they're learning, but research shows really few returns from those hours
    • The most common (by student number) were reading text and their own notes, with helping each other and reworking old problems very high as well.  Reading the notes that I send out wasn't as high, but some students really like using them, so I'll keep that up.
    • I haven't done as good of a job encouraging reassessment as test prep as I should've.  Some students figure out that doing a little reassessment before the test makes the test go much better, and ultimately reduces the need for reassessment later, but most principally reassess after tests (and, really, most reassess right before the end of the term).  There's a grade focus that I'm not a fan of, but I can do a better job in the education process earlier in the year.
    • Working new problems was really infrequently reported.  That's a problem.  If you have really only seen, say, conservation of energy applied in a dozen or two situations, you might start thinking that those are the only ways that it can be applied, or not have enough data to see the general relationship underlying the specific problems.  I think that there's an aspect of this  held over from chemistry, where students often get the idea that there's some finite "number of problems" that you can memorize the steps to (...and that this is learning).  Sometimes, you can get through chemistry like this, but never, ever through physics this way.  Perhaps doing more goal-less problems will help students get the idea that asking your own questions is, you know, allowed (and good!).

    1 comment:

    1. Funny to read this now as tomorrow in my math class, I was planning to do a post mid-bimester exam reflection including a survey of how they study. I have a feeling that more than 48% of my students are using passive methods. Will know more tomorrow.