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Quit Making Tests!

Right now, teachers all over the world are making/grading/creating tests for their students. I have quit all that foolishness. I have not abandoned testing in my classroom. Instead, I have become more student centered and have given my students the responsibility of creating their tests…in particular, our final exams.

As many of you know, creating test questions can be quite difficult. It is hard to get the right text with the right meaning with the right answers. In particular, it can be hard to make great multiple-choice questions (I love them…but that is for another post) because you have to come up with plausible answers for all the choices. So, I told my kids they were responsible for creating the test questions.

Before I let them dive in and start creating questions, we spent time (around 5 months) learning how to write questions. See, whether you know it or not, creating questions from content is not something you just throw together. Questions have to be created using diction and syntax that allow for easy comprehension. The words you chose and the order you write them can dramatically change the content and context of the correct answer. With all this in mind, every week during class, we would focus on creating 1 or 2 questions regarding something we were working on. As I teach high school, we focused on interpretive questions as they require the reader to use contextual skills as well as inferences, predictions, and foreshadowing.

One of the things I told my students was that in order to write an interpretive question, simply start with the question stem HOW or WHY. These two words create an automatic need for the reader to search and create connections within parts of the text. It ALSO forces the question creator to do the same thing. After the first week of creating questions, some of my kids told me they confused, but they were confused because they could not find good ‘wrong’ answers that seemed plausible.  I told them “that is the reason we are doing this :-)”

Anyway, we continued creating interpretive style questions for the rest of that school year. During the month of April, I told them they were going to create my 150 question final. I told them that for every one of their questions I used (I put the student’s name next to each question so the other students know who created the brain-burning question), I would give them 2 extra points on their final exam grade.

I told them they I would pick 150 questions that I thought were thought provoking and proved to be representative of what we had covered throughout the semester. At first, they thought I was joking. Nope. I gave them the power to create the test they would be tested on. I told them they could use all their study guides, phones, anything they wanted to help write the questions… and…they worked all period. They gave their questions to friends to see if they could answer them. They let me know if they had stumped their friend. One of the partnerships even came up to me and asked if a particular question was written ‘clear’ or if the question was worded wrong In essence, students were engaged in their own learning and were studying the material by trying to stump their friends.

One of my kids said out loud that, “I hope to God I do not get my own question wrong.” The students now value the assessment because they created it. After we take the assessment, each student will grade their own (again, another post for a different day).

If you want kids to value your tests, quit making them ‘your’ tests. Make the kids create them; you will be surprised at what they will create when they know they are given the chance and responsibility.

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The author

Randy Norman is an American high school English teacher and founder of #TattED: a movement designed to help create and promote authentic teachers and authentic teaching. His goal is to help teachers with tattoos and piercings become more prevalent in education and to let these teachers ‘be themselves’ in the classroom as they are outside of the classroom. He currently lives outside of Atlanta, Georgia in the United States with his wife and kids.

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