Saturday, October 6, 2007

My "Advice about taking a test"

The following is advice I give to students. It encapsulates my philosophy about test-creation almost as much as about test-taking, so I'm including it here.

Advice About Taking a Test
L. Pulsipher

I am NOT trying to trick you with questions. Trick questions are pointless and serve no purpose. Poorly worded questions can always appear to be tricky, but I try hard to avoid that.

Answer the question. Simple advice, but sometimes people talk about this and that but not about the question! Some teachers tell people, “if you don’t know the answer, talk about something that’s close to the topic, and if you’re right I’ll give you some credit.” Not here. If you have a problem to solve at work and you know the solution to some other problem, it doesn’t help, does it? Nor will it on a test. Having said that, I’m infamous for giving half and even quarter credit for an answer.

If the question includes a comparison or contrast between two things, be sure to address both of them in your answer--don’t discuss one and assume we all know about the other, because the test grader can’t assume that.

Don’t beg the question--that is, don’t give as an answer a reworded version of the question. For example, if you’re asked why such-and-such is true, don’t answer that such-and-such is true (even using different wording): say WHY.

In most cases (other than multiple choice and true-false) use complete sentences, or at least complete phrases. On the other hand, if the question specifically asks you just to name three of something, listing those three will be good enough.

Finally, always remember that as I grade test I have no idea who is giving the answers. I may know, from talking with you, that you know such-and-such, but if it isn’t on paper (or in the computer), it doesn’t count.

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"Always do right--this will gratify some and astonish the rest."Mark Twain
"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Antoine de Saint-Exup'ery

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Albert Einstein

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Albert Einstein

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." -- Aristotle