Investing in Students – One Exam at a Time

August 11, 2014 Brooke Lein

Let’s face it– exams are scary! The idea of sitting down in a hushed environment to take a test by accessing extensive stores of information all at once can be unnerving. Many exam takers are intelligent, they are competitive, and most of them actually want to be successful. It is this intense desire to succeed that often makes the simple task of answering a series of questions on a test so… terrifying for them.

What if this weren’t the case? What if students associated assessments with opportunities for growth instead of opportunities for failure? What if there were a way for students to identify and evaluate their own unique strengths and weaknesses so they could improve their performances? By giving them actionable feedback, there is a way.

The Goal of Assessment Is to Gather Information

Everyone knows exams are designed to give the examiner information. What do my students actually know? How are they predicted likely to perform later on at the end of the year? Where can I improve my teaching practices? Exams provide the answers to these questions for an examiner.

Not everyone realizes that exams can also give the examinee useful information as well. What are my strengths? Where can I improve moving forward? What expectations should I have for the final assessment at the end of the year? Am I on track? The right exams can provide an examinee with the answers to these questions.

The More Information You Can Get, the Better

The age of giving two exams per year—one at the beginning and one at the end—is nearing extinction. Giving multiple exams throughout a given term is favorable when it comes to gathering data. And the sooner data is obtained, the sooner faculty and students can learn from it so they can be as productive and successful as possible.

Once we have the data firmly in our grasps, we need to analyze it. In order for us to do something about it and make the necessary changes, we need to understand what it means.

Taking Action

Tagging questions with learning outcomes (also known as ‘categories’ in ExamSoft) is a great way to help faculty gather specific pieces of information with respect to the reporting process. Users can choose to include different types of information in each report, depending on what they’d like to evaluate at the moment.

When performance data is separated according to learning outcomes, faculty members are able to easily identify what they need to emphasize. Conversely, students are able to identify where to prioritize their study time for the next exam. Everyone can now effectively “take action” based on the information they’ve received.

Exams are more than just intimidating questions on a screen. With the right testing system in place, they are mechanisms by which we all come to understand more about what is known and what is left to learn. Exams can help professors to teach more effectively while creating viable opportunities for students to drive their own academic development.


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