Increasing learning with Traditional Tests

Use Traditional Tests as Formative Assessments

Using traditional tests as formative assessments to improve learning and give feedback can be difficult at best. But here’s a simple and powerful way to use traditional summative tests to increase learning and thinking.

When I was teaching middle and high school social studies, like most teachers, I often gave a traditional summative test (multiple choice questions, matching, short essays, etc.) at the end of a unit. But then, after I graded the test, I handed it back to the students and we did the following activity:

For multiple-choice, matching, or fill in the blank questions, we went over the questions one by one, and for each question one student was called on to tell everyone the right answer and explain why it was the right answer (of course, anything that was just recall or fact was explained that way). But there was an additional rule – for any question, if a student could show me that another multiple-choice answer was correct, and could justify it, I would accept it as right and change my grades for all those who marked that answer as correct!

This led to some fascinating discussions and some interesting insights into student thinking. It also highlighted the difficulty of creating right answer questions that had only one right answer!

For short essay questions, I would indicate what I was looking for in their answers (criteria) and students would review their answers in pairs. Then anyone could challenge my grading if they could justify why they thought their answers did meet my criteria, or if they could even suggest additional criteria that indicated their essay better demonstrated their learning or gave a better answer to the question.

After all this happened, students wrote a “self-reflection” on what they had learned in this process, and how they might improve their test scores on future tests.

All this was done publicly, so the entire class benefited from our discussions, challenges, and justifications. We all had a good time in the process. The learning and relearning that took place was enormous. And many students figured out ways to improve their study habits and their work in the future.