Monday, September 15, 2008

Analyzing Test Questions

Do I just ask my students Knowledge based questions or do I require critical thinking to answer my questions? I was listening to a Wicked Decent Learning podcast today when they started talking about the questions asked in the classroom and what kinds of questions they were. This had me reminisce back to when I took a statistics class in college and we discussed test questions.

When I give a test, I ask the student questions that ask for knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation based on Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide. Sometimes I would look at the questions and decide that I asked too many of one type and not another. Even though I taught special education students, I believe that they are capable of answering questions on all of these levels. I really like application and evaluation questions but that is just a personal preference and I feel their answers show whether the student understands what I have tried to teach them or not. Of course it is easier to have students regurgitate whatever I taught them but do these types of answers really show understanding? I can teach a parrot to repeat answers but that doesn’t mean it understands the concepts. To ask questions that require critical thinking skills, a teacher must spend time composing these questions.

After the test, sometimes I like to analyze the results. My students did not use scantron sheets and just used regular paper. When I graded the papers I would tally how many students got a specific question wrong. Sometimes if they had the same wrong answers I would make a note of this. By looking at the results of this, I was able to tell if the majority of the students missed a certain question and if they were answering a question with the same wrong answer. This might mean many of them didn’t understand the concept, or misunderstood what was taught. Either way, this concept needed to be re-taught. By just giving a grade and not looking at the overall picture, I am missing a valuable teaching moment.

I helped a friend grade some test papers the other day and the question asked about prehistoric inventions that improved life (or something like that). The student answer involved Christopher Columbus and how this prehistoric invention helped him find the West Indies. I can just picture Columbus wearing a caveman outfit and holding a club! Thank goodness this answer was a one-of-a-kind answer and not many others had this answer wrong.

I was pretty busy with every day teaching responsibilities and didn’t do this for every quiz, but I felt if I gave a major test, I needed to look at these results. If it was important enough to test and expect the students to have the knowledge, than it was important enough for me to analyze the results. And let’s face it, sometimes I just enjoyed reading their wrong answers. I remember doing this a lot when I first starting teaching, when good habits were first taught. Then as I became busier and busier, this test analysis fell to the wayside. Then as I gained more and more experience, I realized how important this was. If I missed this step and started to move on to concepts that were based on the previous concepts and skills, I needed to make sure my students could master the previous concepts and skills first. Otherwise, the frustration level would increase and the failure rate would also increase. By doing test analysis and rethinking my lesson, I was able to increase the success rate of my students and everyone in the class, including me, was much happier.


Anonymous said...

By analyzing in the way you describe, you are doing justice to the assessment activity. Unfortunately, in many cases teachers are merely setting questions and grading them to satisfy the system, and not to analyze where the problem areas are and what corrective measures are to be taken. Your posting is a good reminder - what is the purpose of tests?

Jamuna said...

Assessments have to bring out what the students have understood and any fall out should be corrected by the teacher. provides a few tips.

Anonymous said...

I love the picture to go with the post! It reminds me of the best test answer that I saw a couple of years ago: "what kind of angles does this triangle have?" Answer: "pointed ones"(true, but no credit, since acute was the desired answer) I love to see how they think when they give the wrong answer. I wish I didn't have to tag grades to tests, but then they wouldn't take it seriously.

loonyhiker said...

kobus: I have seen too many teachers give meaningless tests because they have to put a grade in the computer. Thanks for reading!

loonyhiker said...

jamuna: Thanks for the link. I can't wait to check it out!

loonyhiker said...

margaret: I've heard lots of kids say that a paper wouldn't be grades so they didn't have to take it seriously. I hope to instill learning for the sake of learning in some of my students' hearts.

Wicked Decent Learning said...

Thanks so much for the link to the show. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

I was very impressed with your process for evaluating if you need to reteach. I wish all students were lucky enough to have a teacher with such attention to their own practice. It's always promising to see a teacher that so blatantly rejects the "I teach, you learn, don't pass, too bad" attitude.

I'm curious to know how you heard of our show?

Wicked Decent Learning

loonyhiker said...

Jeff: Thanks for reading my blog! Skip Zalneraitis recommended your podcasts on Plurk so I had to check it out and really enjoyed listening to them.