Pros and Cons of Final Exams

027710797f7dd0d66b2305c40e1fd10ddef3412ac66b2a56f5c0b38333e2cc4b

Tuesday marks the beginning of Finals Week at my school.  I’ve been teaching for nine years, and each year I change the way I have administered and developed my midterm and final exam.  I have rarely been required to follow a particular format by my administration, which was a joy but also could be taxing.  I have utilized objective assessment formats: multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching; subjective and project-based have also served as my culminating assessments.  I have reflected on the merits of the multiple formats and have determined a list of pros and cons for each.

Subjective Assessments (Multiple Choice, Fill-in-the-Blank, Matching, etc.)

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Pros:

  • Easy to grade
  • Relatively easy to create
  • Trends in comprehension (number correct/incorrect) efficiently identified
  • Format can parallel standardized tests which allows for students to be more familiar and comfortable when assessed (ACT, SAT, state tests)

Cons:

  • Only assesses one type of learning/interpretation
  • Creating questions that truly align with objectives/standards can be difficult
  • Leaves little room for students to express themselves and their understanding
  • Little-to-no creativity or individuality allowed

Objective Assessments (Short Answer, Short Essay, Essay)

free-college-planning3

Pros:

  • Students able to express themselves and their understanding in their own way
  • More room for individuality
  • Questions can be more easily created because they can encompass more ideas/skills

Cons:

  • Takes longer to grade
  • Some students are not strong writers
  • Addresses one learning style
  • Usually there are fewer questions (sometimes only one), therefore if it is interpreted incorrectly, students’ responses may not fully encompass their full knowledge
  • ESL/ESE students may struggle
  • Extensive rubrics required

Project-Based/Presentations

Miller-PBL-Assessment-Resources-300x225

Pros:

  • Allowance for multiple interpretations and approaches to answering the prompt
  • Creativity is encouraged
  • Application of classroom content to a real-world issue
  • Students are allowed to connect to the content in a real way
  • More learning styles are addressed
  • Collaboration is an option

Cons:

  • Requires outside of class time – teacher has little control over if it is completed
  • Developing the project requirements is more complex
  • Multiple aspects need to addressed when grading
  • Students need strong support in developing presentation skills; scaffolding required
  • Multiple days required for presentation
  • Extensive rubrics required

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no one proper way to assess students; all formats present their advantages and disadvantages.  A good teacher who wants to truly assess their students’ complete understanding and skill level will not choose just one format, but will allow for multiple assessment formats.

Midterm Projects and Genius Hour

Monday marked the first day of Midterm Week for us at school.  I chose to have all of my midterms be project-based, and I am mostly pleased with the outcomes.

For my AP Language & Composition course, I chose to have my students complete a Nonfiction Novel Project that was shared with my College Board Summer Institute class last summer.  A novel is chosen by each student and they are required to read it, write a synopsis, define key vocabulary terms, identify and explain five to ten rhetorical devices per chapter/section, and give the novel a proper review in terms of the author’s writing style and content.

The Creative Writing class had been working on 500 word stories and essays throughout the quarter, and their midterm was to turn one of them into a five-to-seven page story.  I asked them to really work on developing their characters, as this was the focus of their previous assignments.

English III was really a lot of fun because it was the group of students whom I chose to work on Genius Hour.  Most of the projects were really well done and the students shared how much they enjoyed the process and opportunity to research something that they wanted to.  I had two class periods participate in Genius Hour, and while it was difficult for some students to get started, I would say that overall the project was a success.

MathWarehouse-pie-3

I had students prepare presentations that addressed the following questions:

  • What was your project objective when you first began the project?
  • Your project objective might have changed at some point.  If it did, how and why?
  • How did you bring your resources together to support your project objective?  What resources did you use?
  • Why did you choose your topic?  What connections do you have to it?
  • What did you learn as a participant in this process?  What did it reveal that you can use in the future?
  • Now that the project is “completed,” what follow up questions do you have?
  • If we began Genius Hour – Round Two, would you stick with this topic or would you begin a new one?

Presentations came in many different formats.

MathWarehouse-pie-2

If I were to put a description on how successful I felt my first attempt at implementing Genius Hour went, I would say that it was effective, but much room was left for improvement.

What Went Well:

  • Student Enjoyment – the majority of students said that they were glad that we did Genius Hour, and the few that were apathetic have that general attitude about school and responsibility in general.
  • Time in the Media Center – I was worried about not having adequate time, but as it turned out I was able to book the Media Center as often as I felt it was necessary.
  • Creativity – This particular class of students has a high level of creativity and zest for the dramatic, so I was not let down when I had high hopes that the Genius Hour projects would be creative and vivid.
  • The Initial Use of Blogging – I had my students maintain blogs about their Genius Hour projects, documenting the information that they uncovered, how their project formation was developing, and their thoughts about it in general as the process unfolded.
  • Using Feedly – This was the single most efficient tool that I have found to assist me during a project.  Feedly allowed me to subscribe to all of the student blogs and only log into one account to see their postings.

What Needs to be Improved Upon:

  • Increased Diligence on Blogging – If I gave students time during class to complete their weekly blogs then they were completed.  Sadly, I soon discovered that left up to their own devices, the students would not post, even after being shown the ease in which creating a blog entry was on their smartphones with the use of the WordPress application.
  • More Student Conferencing – I spent an adequate amount of time checking in with students, but I realize at the end of the journey that I left too much of my feedback on their blog entries as opposed to a face-to-face discussion.  I think that this would help the students in their understanding of the project requirements.
  • Stronger Parameters – Now that I have had the first round of Genius Hour completed, I realize that I need to increase the specifications of the project in general.  I now see that the requirements that I gave were good, but should have been increased to help support the students’ understanding and perhaps even their devotion to the project.  Examples might be a more specific rubric, example projects (which I now have), specific blog topics, a formal project proposal, a formal project update log, etc.