I’m sure you’ve noticed that student interest perks up whenever there’s a mention of potential test questions. I wonder if we could be taking more advantage of that interest. Truth be told, we should be as interested in these questions as students are. Studying by using questions is an evidence-based strategy, one that improves exam scores and promotes deep learning. Here’s some ways we can leverage that interest and get students more focused on questions and less into memorizing answers.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m sure you’ve noticed that student interest perks up whenever there’s a mention of potential test questions. I wonder if we could be taking more advantage of that interest. Truth be told, we should be as interested in these questions as students are. Studying by using questions is an evidence-based strategy, one that improves exam scores and promotes deep learning. Here’s some ways we can leverage that interest and get students more focused on questions and less into memorizing answers.
Begin a course session with a review activity that involves generating a test question. “If you were looking for a potential exam question from yesterday’s material, what topics might you consider?” “What questions would you ask about these topics?” If it’s a new activity or time is short, provide the question stem and let students suggest the multiple-choice answer options. This activity is also a good way to wrap up a session as it keeps students attentive during those last five minutes when they tend to be packing up—mentally and physically.
After a content chunk or when students need a break, flash a previously used test question on the screen. Make it a question on content covered several days previously. Give students a minute or so to come up with the answer. Entertain different possible answers before designating the right one. Questions are most powerful in that space after they’ve been asked but before they’ve been answered. Students will listen intently in that space because they’re keenly interested in learning the right answers.
Use a bit of drama to get students’ attention. Shortly before the exam, announce that tomorrow—either in class or on the course website—you are going to share/post last semester’s most-missed question from the upcoming exam. You sacrifice the question, but you have a sizeable number of students grappling with a question on content that has previously stumped a lot of students. Could you use a related question on the exam?
Post a short-answer question on the course website along with three possible answers. Let students grade the answers. Students can usually pick out the “best” answer. Follow that up with a brief discussion of the different answers and help students understand those features that make an answer good or not-so-good.
Make generating potential test questions an assignment. It could be completed individually or in groups. Assign the individual or groups different chunks of content and a specified type and number of questions. If you are going to have students write questions, particularly multiple-choice questions, they’ll need some help on writing good ones. This could be a set of guidelines, illustrated with examples. Here’s an old but still relevant description of a good test question generation assignment: Green, D. H., (1997). Student-generated exams: Testing and learning. Journal of Marketing Education, Summer, 43-53.
Use student-generated questions during the in-class review session. Individuals or groups submit a designated number which you put together in a test format. Students answer those questions individually or in groups during class. You might intermingle a few of your own questions that can be compared with student questions. In the interest of time, let students use books and notes to find the answers. This activity has the added benefit of clarifying students’ understandings of the different kinds and levels of questions.
Use student-generated questions on the exam. Ones with potential can be edited. You can use a lot or a few, but even a few student questions motivate their involvement in question-generating activities. Some faculty who use student questions attach the student’s name to the question. Others give a bonus point to the author if one of his or her questions ends up on the exam.
Leave one question on the test blank. Students write a question not asked on the exam and then provide their answer. To encourage good questions, grade both the question and the answer in terms of quality and correctness.
Is this playing too much to the extrinsic motivation that so often drives studying for exams? You’ll have to decide. I look upon it as a way of connecting students with the content they need to know. And who knows, if “test” questions are more regularly encountered in the course, maybe that diffuses some of the anxiety they provoke, and maybe it gets at least a few students realizing that questions are the hook that pulls them to learning.