Module 3: During a Test
By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:
- Identify different types of tests and test formats.
- Implement specific test strategies for during a test.
- Employ effective strategies for answering typical kinds of test questions (multiple choice, true/false, matching, short answer and essay).
- Determine the importance of academic integrity and the consequences of dishonesty.
Types of Tests and Formats
Types of Tests
All tests are designed to determine how much you know about a particular subject at a particular point in time. There are many ways to understand how tests and exams fit into academia and college culture. One way is to ask what purpose the tests (also called assessments) serve. For example, what is your professor trying to achieve if she gives you a survey-type test on the first day of class? How might the purpose of that test differ from that of, say, a practice quiz given before a midterm? And what is the purpose of a midterm?
Obviously, each survey, quiz, practice test, midterm, and final exam can serve different purposes. Depending upon the purpose, the assessment will fall into one of the following three categories:
- Formative assessment
- Summative assessment
Pre-assessments: Tests in this category are used to measure the beliefs, assumptions, knowledge, and skills that you have when you begin a class or before you begin working on a new topic. With pre-assessments, your professor gathers baseline data to use at a later time to evaluate change—that is, by comparing former knowledge or skills against what you learn in class.
One approach to pre-assessment is for a professor to ask students at the start of the term to describe a term or concept that’s foundational to the course. Then, later in the course, the professor revisits that data to determine how the instruction changed your understanding of the same concept. Comparing what you know or believe before and after a course or lesson is a productive way to gauge how successful your learning was and how successful the teaching was.
Formative assessments: Tests in this category are typically quizzes, unit tests, pop quizzes, and review quizzes from a textbook or its Web site. Their main objective is to make sure you know the fundamental material before moving on to more challenging topics. Because these quizzes usually don’t count much toward your final grade, many students think they are not very important. In fact, these quizzes are very important, particularly to you; they can help you to identify what you know and what you still need to learn to be successful in the course and in applying the material. A poor result on a quiz may not negatively affect your final grade much, but learning from its results and correcting your mistakes will affect your final grade, on the positive side, when you take midterms and finals!
Summative assessments: Tests in this category are the assessments that students are most familiar with: midterms and finals. They are used by the instructor to determine if you are mastering a large portion of the material, and as such, they usually carry a heavyweight toward your final grade for the course. Because of this, summative assessments can be stressful, but they can also be an effective measurement tool.
Tests vary in style, rigor, and requirements. For example, in a closed book test, a test taker is typically required to rely upon memory to respond to specific items. In an open-book test, though, a test taker may use one or more supplementary resources such as a reference book or notes. Open-book testing may be used for subjects in which many technical terms or formulas are required to effectively answer questions, like in chemistry or physics.
In addition, tests may be administered formally or informally. In an informal test, you might simply respond in a class to discussion questions posed by the instructor. In a formal test, you are usually expected to work alone, and the stakes are higher.
Below is a sampling of common test formats you may encounter. If you know what kind of test you’ll be taking, you can tailor your study approach to the format.
Common Test Types
There are three common test types: written tests, oral tests, and electronic tests. Let’s look at the kinds of things you’ll be expected to complete in each test type.
Written tests can be open book, closed book, or anywhere in between. Students are required to give written answers (as the name of this test type implies).
- Paper tests are still the most common type of test, requiring students to write answers on the test pages or in a separate test booklet or answer sheet. They are typically used for in-class tests. Neatness and good grammar count, even if it’s not an English exam. Remember that the instructor will be reading dozens of test papers and will not likely spend much time trying to figure out your hieroglyphics, arrows, and cross-outs.
- Open-book tests allow the student to consult their notes, textbook, or both while taking the exam. Instructors often give this type of test when they are more interested in seeing your thoughts and critical thinking than your memory power. Be prepared to expose and defend your own viewpoints. When preparing, know where key material is present in your book and notes; create an index for your notes and use sticky notes to flag key pages of your textbook before the exam. Be careful when copying information or formulas to your test answers, because nothing looks worse in an open-book exam than misusing the material at your disposal.
- Take-home tests are like open-book tests except you have the luxury of time on your side. Make sure you submit the exam on time. Know what the instructor’s expectations are about the content of your answers. The instructor will likely expect more detail and complete work because you are not under a strict time limit and because you have access to reference materials. Be clear about when the test is due. (Some instructors will ask you to e-mail your exam to them by a specific time.) Also, find out if the instructor allows or expects you to collaborate with classmates. Be sure to type your exam and don’t forget to spell-check!
Below you’ll find a table of the most common question types in written tests:
|Multiple choice (objective)
|You are presented with a question and a set of answers for each question, and you must choose which answer or group of answers is correct. Multiple-choice questions usually require less time for test takers to answer than other question types, and they are easy to score and grade. They also allow for a wide range of difficulty.
|You are presented with a statement, and you must determine whether it is true or false. True/false questions are generally not predominant on tests because instructors know that, statistically, random guesswork can yield a good score. But when used sparingly, true/false questions can be effective.
|You are presented with a set of specific terms or ideas and a set of definitions or identifying characteristics. You must match each term with its correct definition or characteristics.
|You are presented with identifying characteristics, and you must recall and supply the correct associated term or idea. There are two types of fill-in-the-blank tests: 1) The easier version provides a word bank of possible words that will fill in the blanks. 2) The more difficult version has no word bank to choose from. Fill-in-the-blank tests with no word bank can be anxiety producing.
|You are presented with a question or concept that you must explain in depth. Essay questions emphasize themes and broad ideas. Essay questions allow students to demonstrate critical thinking, creative thinking, and writing skills.
Oral Test or Presentations are a discussion type of test. They are also subjective: there isn’t just one correct answer to the test questions. The oral test is practiced in many schools and disciplines in which an examiner verbally poses questions to the student. The student must answer the question in such a way as to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the subject. Usually, study guides or a syllabus are made available so that the students may prepare for the exam by reviewing practice questions and topics likely to be on the exam. The instructor can (and likely will) probe you on certain points, question your assumptions, or ask you to defend your point of view. Make sure you practice your presentation many times with and without an audience (your study group is good for this). Have a clear and concise point of view and keep to the allotted time. (You don’t want to miss delivering a killer close if your instructor cuts you off because you weren’t aware of the time!)
Electronic Tests or Online Tests are most commonly used for formative assessments, although they are starting to find their way into high-stakes exams, particularly in large lecture classes that fulfill a graduation requirement (like introductory psychology or history survey courses). The main advantage of online tests is that they can be computer graded, providing fast feedback to the student (with formative tests) and allowing the instructor to grade hundreds of exams easily (with summative assessments). Since these tests are computer graded, be aware that the instructor’s judgment is not involved in the grading. Your answers will be either right or wrong; there is no room for partially correct responses. With online tests, be sure you understand the testing software. Are there practice questions? If so, make sure you use them. Find out if you will be allowed to move freely between test sections to go back and check your work or to complete questions you might have skipped. Some testing software does not allow you to return to sections once they are “submitted.” Unless your exam needs to be taken at a specific time, don’t wait until the last minute to take the test. Should you have technical problems, you want to have time to resolve the issues. To avoid any conflicts with the testing software, close all other software applications before beginning the testing software. Electronic tests in the classroom are becoming more common as colleges install “smart classrooms” with technology such as wireless “clicker” technology that instructors may use to get a quick read of students’ understanding of a lecture. This testing method allows for only true-or-false and multiple-choice questions, so it is rarely used for summative assessments. When taking this kind of quick quiz, take notes on questions you miss so that you can focus on them when you do your own review.
Strategies to Use DURING a Test
Test Taking Strategies
You have used all the study skills you learned in this course. You listen in class, take clear notes, read your textbook, compare your textbook and classroom notes, and review regularly. You have brought your test anxiety into control. Your upcoming test is now an opportunity for you to show what you have learned What else can you do to ensure success on a test?
On Test Day: During the Test
Scan the test first to see what it covers
- Identify the point value of each test section
- Write down what you know
- If you are trying to remember things like formulas, definitions, lists, etc., flip your test over and write down everything you are trying to remember. This will clear your brain, allowing you to focus 100% on the exam, rather than using part of your attention to remember specific information.
- Estimate how much time you think you will need for each section.
- Plan your time: Now that you have scanned your test, how much time should you spend on each section? Your goal is to prove to your professor you KNOW the material.
- Plan out realistic time slots for each section of the test
- Prioritize the sections by level of difficulty (start with the easy ones).
- Check on the time often to make sure you are on track. Slow down or speed up as necessary.
- Read the instructions carefully
- Don’t assume you know what the instructions are. Be sure!
- Answer the easy questions first and skip the harder ones.
- Go through the test and answer all of the ones you know first.
- Skip the ones you are unsure of. There are often clues later in the exam or another question will spark your memory.
- Stay positive by not getting down about a question you don’t know. Skip it and return to it later.
- Read each question carefully!
- Answer everything. Don’t leave anything blank, even if you have to guess.
- Don’t rush! Use all the time available. There are no points for finishing first.
- Check your work for accuracy.
- Check to make sure you have answered all parts of a question.
- Check your answer sheet every 10 questions to make sure you aren’t mismarking.
- Only change an answer if you are SURE you made a mistake.
Strategies For Specific Question Types
You can gain even more confidence in your test-taking abilities by understanding the different kinds of questions an instructor may ask and apply the following proven strategies for answering them. Most instructors will likely use various conventional types of questions. Here are some tips for handling the most common types.
- Read the instructions carefully to determine if there may be more than one right answer.
- If there are multiple right answers, does the instructor expect you to choose just one, or do you need to mark all correct options?
- For each question, follow these steps:
- Read each question only (do not look at the answer choices)
- Paraphrase the question (ask yourself "What is the question asking?")
- Determine your answer to the question.
- Search for your answer within the listed options. If you don't find it, repeat the process. You may have misinterpreted the question.
Many times we get distracted by the options that are available in multiple choice tests, so you may find it helpful to actually cover the multiple choice options when using these steps. Here is a visual to help you remember the steps to take when answering exam questions:
Additional Tips for Multiple Choice Questions
- Look for clue words that hint that certain option answers might be correct or incorrect.
- Absolute words like “never,” “always,” “every,” or “none” are rarely found in a correct option.
- Less absolute words like “usually,” “often,” or “rarely” are regularly found in correct options.
- Be on the lookout for the word “not” in the stem phrase and in the answer choice options; it is an easy word to miss if you are reading too quickly, but it completely changes the meaning of the possible statements.
- Skip difficult questions.
- There are often clues in later questions. Or, you may recall information that you had forgotten
- Go back and answer all the questions.
- Do not leave any questions blank, unless there is a penalty for wrong answers (this is often on standardized tests like the SAT and LSAT but rarely on college tests.)
- Most of the tips for multiple-choice questions apply here as well.
- Be particularly aware of the words “never,” “always,” “every,” “none,” and “not” because they can determine the correct answer.
- Answer the questions that are obvious to you first. Then go back to statements that require more thought.
- If the question is stated in the positive, restate it to yourself in the negative by adding the word “not” or “never.” Does the new statement sound truer or more false?
- If you still are unsure whether a statement is true or false and must guess, choose “true” because most tests include more true statements than false (but don’t guess if a wrong answer penalizes you more than one left blank).
- Start by looking at the two columns to be matched. Is there an equal number of items in both columns? If they are not equal, do you have to match some items in the shorter column to two or more items in the longer column, or can you leave some items unmatched? Read the directions to be sure.
- If one column has a series of single words to be matched to phrases in the other column, read all the phrases first, then all the single words before trying to make any matches. Now go back and read each phrase and find the word that best suits the phrase.
- If both columns have single words to be matched, look to cut down the number of potential matches by grouping them by parts of speech (nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, etc.).
- As always, start by making the matches that are obvious to you, and then work on the ones that require more thought. Mark off all items you have already used so you can easily see which words or phrases still remain to be matched.
Short Answer and Essay Test Questions
Short Answer Questions
- Short answer questions are designed for you to recall and provide some very specific information (unlike essay questions, which also ask you to apply critical thinking to that information). When you read the question, ask yourself what exactly the instructor wants to know. Keep your answers short and specific.
- Essay questions are used by instructors to evaluate your thinking and reasoning applied to the material covered in a course. Good essay answers are based on your thoughts, supported by examples from classes and reading assignments.
- Careful planning is critical to answering essay questions effectively. Note how many essay questions you have to answer and how difficult each question seems. Then allocate your time accordingly.
- Read the question carefully and underline or circle key words.
- Watch for words that provide a clue to the instructor’s expectations for your response (see the table below.) Most essay questions will embed a rubric of sorts that will be helpful.
- Use other parts of the exam, like multiple choice, to help you recall vocabulary or specific information.
- Take a moment to organize your thoughts by creating a quick visual (map or outline) for your essay. This helps ensure that you don’t leave out key points, and if you run out of time, it may pick up a few points for your grade.
- Jot down the specific information you might want to use, such as names, dates, and places.
- Introduce your essay answer, but get right to the point. Remember that the instructor will be grading dozens of papers and avoid “filler” text that does not add value to your answer.
- For example, rather than writing, “In our study of the Civil War, it is helpful to consider the many facets that lead to conflict, especially the economic factors that help explain this important turning point in our nation’s history,” write a more direct and concise statement like this: “Economic factors help explain the start of the Civil War.”
- Write neatly and watch your grammar and spelling.
- Allow time to proofread your essay. You want your instructor to want to read your essay, not dread it.
- Remember that grading essays is largely subjective. The only objective clues you have are the question itself and your own knowledge about that particular professor. Limit your answer to the question being asked.
- Be sure to answer all parts of the question. Essay questions often have more than one part. Remember, too, that essay questions often have multiple acceptable answers.
Words to Watch for in Essay Questions
|What It Means
|What the Instructor Is Looking For
|Break concept into key parts
|Don’t just list the parts; show how they work together and illustrate any patterns.
|Show similarities (and sometimes differences) between two or more concepts or ideas
|Define the similarities and clearly describe how the items or ideas are similar. Do these similarities lead to similar results or effects? Note that this word is often combined with “contrast.” If so, make sure you do both.
|Show differences between two or more concepts or ideas
|Define the differences and clearly describe how the items or ideas are different. How do these differences result in different outcomes? Note that this word is often combined with “compare.” If so, make sure you do both.
|Judge and analyze
|Explain what is wrong—and right—about a concept. Include your own judgments, supported by evidence and quotes from experts that support your point of view.
|Describe the meaning of a word, phrase, or concept
|Define the concept or idea as your instructor did in class—but use your own words. If your definition differs from what the instructor presented, support your difference with evidence. Keep this essay short. Examples can help illustrate a definition, but remember that examples alone are not a definition.
|Explain or review
|Define the key questions around the issue to be discussed and then answer them. Another approach is to define the pros and cons on the issue and compare and contrast them. In either case, explore all relevant data and information.
|Clarify, give reasons for something
|Clarity is key for these questions. Outline your thoughts carefully. Proofread, edit, proofread, and proofread again! Good explanations are often lost in too many words.
|Use examples from class material or reading assignments. Compare and contrast them to other examples you might come up with from additional reading or real life.
|Provide evidence and arguments that something is true
|Instructors who include this prompt in an exam question have often proven the hypothesis or other concepts in their class lectures. Think about the kind of evidence the instructor used and apply similar types of processes and data.
|Give a brief, precise description of an idea or concept
|Keep it short, but cover all key points. This is one essay prompt where examples should not be included unless the instructions specifically ask for them. (For example, “Summarize the steps of the learning cycle and give examples of the main strategies you should apply in each one.”)
Below is another video from College Info Geek called 10 Ways to Avoid Making Stupid Mistakes on Exams.
Academic Integrity During College Exams
Practicing Academic Integrity On Exams
Throughout this book, we have focused on the active process of learning, not just on how to get good grades. The attitude of some students that grades are the end-all in academics has led many students to resort to academic dishonesty to try to get the best possible grades or handle the pressure of an academic program. Although you may be further tempted if you’ve heard people say, “Everybody does it,” or “It’s no big deal at my school,” you should be mindful of the consequences of cheating:
- You don’t learn as much. Cheating may get you the right answer on a particular exam question, but it won’t teach you how to apply knowledge in the world after school, nor will it give you a foundation of knowledge for learning the more advanced material. When you cheat, you cheat yourself out of opportunities.
- You risk failing the course or even expulsion from school. Each institution has its own definitions of and penalties for academic dishonesty, but most include cheating, plagiarism, and fabrication or falsification. The exact details of what is allowed or not allowed vary somewhat among different colleges and even instructors, so you should be sure to check your school’s Web site and your instructor’s guidelines to see what rules apply. Ignorance of the rules is seldom considered a valid defense.
- Cheating causes stress. Fear of getting caught will cause you stress and anxiety; this will get in the way of performing well with the information you do know.
- You’re throwing away your money and time. Getting a college education is a big investment of money and effort. You’re simply not getting your full value when you cheat because you don’t learn as much.
- You are trashing your integrity. Cheating once and getting away with it makes it easier to cheat again, and the more you cheat, the more comfortable you will feel with giving up your integrity in other areas of life—with perhaps even more serious consequences.
- Cheating lowers your self-esteem. If you cheat, you are telling yourself that you are simply not smart enough to handle learning. It also robs you of the feeling of satisfaction from genuine success.
Technology has made it easier to cheat. Your credit card and an Internet connection can procure a paper for you on just about any subject and length. You can copy and paste for free from various Web sites. Students have made creative use of texting and video on their cell phones to gain unauthorized access to material for exams. But be aware that technology has also created ways for instructors to easily detect these forms of academic dishonesty. Most colleges make these tools available to their instructors. Instructors are also modifying their testing approaches to reduce potential academic misconduct by using methods that are harder to cheat at (such as in-class essays that evaluate your thinking and oral presentations).
If you feel uneasy about doing something in your college work, trust your instincts. Confirm with the instructor that your intended form of research or use of a material is acceptable. Cheating just doesn’t pay.
Examples of Academic Dishonesty
Academic dishonesty can take many forms, and you should be careful to avoid them. The following list from Northwestern University is a clear and complete compilation of what most institutions will consider unacceptable academic behavior.
- Cheating: using unauthorized notes, study aids, or information on an examination; altering a graded work after it has been returned, then submitting the work for regrading; allowing another person to do one’s work and submitting that work under one’s own name; submitting identical or similar papers for credit in more than one course without prior permission from the course instructors.
- Plagiarism: submitting material that in part or whole is not entirely one’s own work without attributing those same portions to their correct source. You can read more about plagiarism in Chapters 2 and 14.
- Fabrication: falsifying or inventing any information, data or citation; presenting data that were not gathered in accordance with standard guidelines defining the appropriate methods for collecting or generating data and failing to include an accurate account of the method by which the data were gathered or collected.
- Obtaining an Unfair Advantage: (a) stealing, reproducing, circulating or otherwise gaining access to examination materials prior to the time authorized by the instructor; (b) stealing, destroying, defacing or concealing library materials with the purpose of depriving others of their use; (c) unauthorized collaboration on an academic assignment; (d) retaining, possessing, using or circulating previously given examination materials, where those materials clearly indicate that they are to be returned to the instructor at the conclusion of the examination; (e) intentionally obstructing or interfering with another student’s academic work; or (f) otherwise undertaking activity with the purpose of creating or obtaining an unfair academic advantage over other students’ academic work.
- Aiding and Abetting Academic Dishonesty: (a) providing material, information, or other assistance to another person with knowledge that such aid could be used in any of the violations stated above, or (b) providing false information in connection with any inquiry regarding academic integrity.
- Falsification of Records and Official Documents: altering documents affecting academic records; forging signatures of authorization or falsifying information on an official academic document, grade report, letter of permission, petition, drop/add form, ID card, or any other official University document.
- Unauthorized Access to computerized academic or administrative records or systems: viewing or altering computer records, modifying computer programs or systems, releasing or dispensing information gained via unauthorized access, or interfering with the use or availability of computer systems or information.
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