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Dropping Scores: The Case for Hope
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May 1, 2014

In “Calculating Final Course Grades: What About Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?” (The Teaching Professor March 2014), the editor notes that “some students ... assume that course content is a breeze, [so] the first ...

Student-Written Exams Increase Student Involvement
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April 1, 2014

Having students write their own exams is an interesting idea that arose out of the authors' desires to increase student involvement in learning and self-evaluation, minimize cheating, decrease exam stress, and make exam experiences more ...

A Note from the Editor
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April 1, 2014

There are three articles in this issue that deal with student assessment and learning. One offers an interesting approach that has students writing and answering their own exam questions; another introduces the idea of feedforward, ...

Provide ‘Feedforward’ with Exemplars
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April 1, 2014

There is growing interest in the pedagogical literature in something called feedforward. It is, as the name implies, the opposite of feedback, which provides input after the fact. Feedforward offers input focused on the future. ...

Rethinking Feedback
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April 1, 2014

The rethinking of feedback as proposed by Boud and Molloy in an article referenced here involves something called “sustainable assessment,” and its overarching goal is equipping students to be lifelong learners.

An Interesting Group Testing Option
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March 1, 2014

Is this situation at all like what you're experiencing? Class sizes are steadily increasing, students need more opportunities to practice critical thinking skills, and you need to keep the amount of time devoted to grading ...

Calculating Final Course Grades: What about Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?
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March 1, 2014

In a small study undertaken in three sections of intermediate macroeconomic theory, MacDermott compared three assessment policies in terms of their impact on the cumulative final exam score: 1) three in-class exams each worth 20 ...

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Test Questions
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March 1, 2014

It's good to regularly review the advantages and disadvantages of the most commonly used test questions and the test banks that now frequently provide them.

Rubrics: Only for Grading?
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March 1, 2014

That's what they were first developed for (clear back in the '70s, would you believe), and in the beginning they were used to assess written work. Now teachers are finding them useful in assessing a ...

Getting Students to Talk about Those Disappointing Grades
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February 1, 2014

Handing back graded work or posting grade results is not usually a favorite course event for teachers. There are always those students disappointed in their grades. Some simply look disappointed; others quickly switch from disappointment ...

In “Calculating Final Course Grades: What About Dropping Scores or Offering a Replacement?” (*The Teaching Professor* March 2014), the editor notes that “some students . . . assume that course content is a breeze, [so] the first exam serve[s] as a wake-up call” (p. 6). In two Introductory Psychology classes (150 students), I recently implemented an effective three-step strategy for getting the best out of such students (and, indeed, all students).
First, I constructed a difficult first assessment: my “welcome to university exam.” The mean on that exam was 55 percent. I definitely had my students' attention. At that point I told my classes that if the first exam score turned out to be the lowest among their four assessments (worth 15 percent, 30 percent, 20 percent, and 35 percent, respectively), I would drop the first mark and add its value to the best of their subsequent exams (which were of equal, above-average difficulty, though slightly less challenging than the first exam). For example, if a student performed worst on the first exam and best on the third exam, the third exam would then be worth 35 percent, i.e., its original 20 percent value plus the 15 percent value of the first exam. This manipulation allowed students who had initially performed poorly to keep alive the possibility of a good grade in the course, because they could potentially be starting afresh after the first exam (and 85 percent of students did score better on at least one of the last three exams).
Finally, following the third exam and several weeks before the final, I told students that if their score on the final exam was the highest of the four, that score would become their course grade. This revelation was intended to encourage students to work hard toward the final exam by allowing them to remain hopeful of a good (or, at least, better) grade until the very end of the course.
I applied this strategy in good conscience, as the final exam was the most comprehensive of the four. Because it was cumulative (covered the entire course) and contained the largest number of questions, it could accurately be characterized as the most difficult exam and thus the *best* test of student competence. Consequently, if students achieved their strongest performance on the hardest test, surely that was the optimal measure of their ability.
Was this strategy effective? Compared to previous years, in which 1 to 2 percent of students typically obtained their highest mark on the final exam, using this procedure 50 percent of “borderline” students (those whose grade going into the final exam was below 55 percent), and even 20 percent of remaining students, earned their highest mark on the final exam, suggesting that there is something to be said for Alexander Pope's venerable assertion that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” If this strategy was implemented long term, the concern that students in subsequent years might be tempted to take a “Russian roulette” approach (i.e., write only the final exam) would be forestalled by the stipulation that students be required to take all four exams to be eligible for the possibility that only their final exam grade would be counted.
*Contact Nicholas F. Skinner at nskinner@uwo.ca.*