“I am a horrible test taker!”

“I am a horrible test taker!”

We have all heard these words from learners. Some will tell us this before they have even taken the first exam in a course. Some will come to accept this as a fact before they even give themselves the chance to prove otherwise.

We can encourage them as we much as can. We can help them review as much as possible. We can administer tests in a manner that reduce anxiety and distraction as much as possible.

“Told you. I am a horrible test taker.”

Some will say this after they perform down to their low expectations. I have heard this every semester and this led me to revisiting the way I had my exams set up. I administered tests the way I was familiar with them. This meant usually in the classroom. Paper, pencil, and scantron. A time limit of about an hour was given at the end of three-hour session.

Eventually, I was administering tests on Blackboard, out of class, open book, with no time limit and multiple attempts. This should reduce any test-induced anxiety, right? This will result in test scores skyrocketing, right? Um, not so much.

At least this was the case in my in-person Intro to Diversity Classes. No matter what concessions I made in the structure of the exams (the material covered and questions remained the same), average scores were lower than the average in my online classes (even when using the same questions) and I was increasingly hearing frustration from learners that no matter how hard they studied, they weren’t earning the scores they felt were reflective of their understanding of the material and the effort they put forth. As learners are accustomed to doing, they would start talking before class, their collective frustration growing, and by the time I began class a full-on revolt was under way.

So out of this concern, I focused on improving the exam scores in my in-person classes when taking Teaching Methods 2.0 and Ed Eval 2.0. After learning about Socrative, I decided to use each week to administer practice quizzes utilizing the iPad cart available in General Studies (learners can also download a free app on their own device or go to the website on their laptops). Each quiz used the questions from the pools used on the exams. Questions were picked to reinforce key points from the chapter presentations, but also to demonstrate different types of questions (comprehension versus application).

The results have been positive for sure. The average exam score went from 68.9% for the Spring 2015 semester to 75.6% in Fall 2015. Of equal (maybe more significance), learners felt the quizzes better helped them understand the material (4.375 average out of 5 on a Likert-style question) and helped them better prepared for the exams (4.33 out of 5).

Also, by administering the formative assessment each week, it helps learners identify prior to taking an exam if they need to prepare differently. I have had more one-on-one conversations with learners about studying habits before they take an exam instead of waiting until they have not performed up to their standards and expectation.

While I am sure it has not eliminated some learners’ concerns about their test-taking abilities, it seems to have gone a long way in preemptively reducing anxiety for some to allow them to do better.

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