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Rethinking My Final Exams:

Posted by Emily Guthrie on May 13, 2016 10:14:41 AM

Final exam best practicesIt is that time of year again when teachers all over the country are preparing for final exams. Although many teachers have their testing strategy down to a science, I know many others (myself included) that have mixed feelings when it comes to balancing the forces involved in finals. Personally, I am at a crossroads with this summative test. For the last decade, I have administered exam books with literally hundreds of multiple choice questions covering all the major strands of my class. I've almost always incorporated an essay section a few weeks before the end of the term, which counted toward the test score, but on the actual test day, I have watched bubble after bubble after bubble.  It has always felt like a strange ritual that served many purposes, but did not really incapsulate exactly what I really wanted students to learn or honor the best practices that I try to use consistently all semester. In the big picture of the semester, regardless of grade level, I most value critical reading and articulate, argumentative analysis of literature. Given my values, I think it is time for me (and maybe you?) to rethink the traditional final exam. Below is the process I am going through. I'd love to hear your questions, comments, or suggestions in the comment section below!  I've learned and grown so much as a teacher through the comments here on the blog as well as on our social media and I'm willing to bet others have read your comments with some of the same enthusiasm for new ideas!

Creating a Final Exam That Feels Right:

  • Carefully decide what it means to *master* your class.

  • Think through the questions of form, content, fairness, academic honesty, practicality, and outside sources beyond your control (see below).

  • Decide on a game plan with confidence.

  1. Form.
    1. Are there important reasons to include multiple choice, essay, or combinations of question types?
  2. Content.
    1. Does this test honor the hours we have spent together learning content?
    2. Does it absolutely need to include every major text we covered?
    3. What about specific vocabulary, grammar, and genre related terms?
  3. Fairness.
    1. Does the test give any particular group an unfair advantage or disadvantage?
  4. Academic honesty.
    1. Does the test lend itself to cheating?
    2. Are there ways I can safeguard against academic dishonesty?
  5. Practicality.
    1. Can I write this test(s) within my time constraints?
    2. Can I reasonably grade this test before the grading deadline?
  6. Outside Forces.
    1. Are there school, department, or district mandates regarding this exam?
    2. Are there other challenges that must be accounted for?

My take away: Based on my values, best practices, and answers to the questions above, I think it is high time that I overhaul my final exam.  In a perfect world, I would offer one argumentative essay question per class (different for each period to reduce cheating).  For each question, I would ask students to argue their thesis using evidence from texts read during the semester (but not necessarily everything or any particular text).  Essay rubrics would include vocabulary, grammar, concrete details, commentary, as well as any other major strands I value. This would make writing my tests more cerebral, but less time consuming. All that being said, there are a few major challenges for me: 1. My school has a policy that all teachers of the same subject (E.g. English 11 CP) give tests that are 80% the same, so I will have to collaborate with my colleagues. 2. I usually have large classes and a quick turnaround clock before grades are due. This means I will have to trade the quick and easy scantron machine for hours bent over my desk reading final exams at a time of the year when my patience grows thin.  I'm hoping that problem is solved with a solid rubric and the determination born from feeling good about the test I am giving.  

What kind of final do you give?  Do you feel good about it?  What advice or questions do you have for this teacher community?

Topics: final, final exam, Holiday/Seasonal, Lesson Planning, test

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