Assessments Techniques That Facilitate Learning and Reduce Cheating
By S. Benson
This week’s tip builds on the theme of a full-day faculty development workshop Assessments for Learning and Evaluation. The two assessment strategies described below are ones that I have used for many years in a variety of courses, including ones that had enrollments of more than 200 students. These tips are built on the premise that assessments are levers that can be used to increase student learning. The first one, “exam retake,” helps ensure that all students have an opportunity to do well and addresses the need for students to build knowledge as they go through the course. If students do not understand the early material in a course, they generally become increasingly lost as the course progresses. The second tip, “help card,” provides a security blanket that can reduce anxiety, encourage students to review and organize course concepts and facts when studying for an exam. The help card created by a student can take the place of an instructor constructed study guide and eliminates the tendency for students bring an illegal cheat sheet to in-class tests.
Give students a chance to retake the test/mid-term examination. The process works this way: return the graded test the class or week following when it is given, inform students that they have the option to redo the exam. Give them 48 hours to do the optional retake. Next, post the original exam as a Word file in Moodle. Students re-taking the exam must answer all questions except those which they received full credit, for these they simple type full credit into the answer space on the retake exam. Once a student downloads the exam, the student must complete it using only a word processor and sign a pledge that it is their work and they did not use any human resources in completing the retake. The test becomes an open-book exam. The completed test is attached to the original graded exam and the two submitted at the start of the next class. Their final test score is the average of the two. Remind them that it is possible for their score to go down if the retake is less correct then their original test. Oddly, this reduction may occasionally happen when students have no idea of what the class is about and select random facts or such from the internet or books. On average about one-third of my students do the optional resubmit and the average improvement is 10-15 percent. The retake option is especially helpful for students who studied the wrong things, are weak in some aspects of the subject area or for reasons unrelated to the course simply had a “bad” day. This allows students to pull up a failing grade at the midterm to a passing one and helps those that are close to the next letter grade cross the line.
A Help Card
Photo credit: Aya Otake
One way of reducing cheating in in-class exams is to allow students to bring to the exam a standard 4×6 “index card” with any handwritten notes or diagrams they choose. It is important that the notes/diagrams on the card are handwritten since this eliminates cutting and pasting materials which are of little learning value. Students can use both sides of the “help card.” I provide blank 4×6 cards, handing them out in class the week before the test. Students are told they must get the card from me. This way the help card is the same for everyone. They turn in their signed “help card” when they turn in the exam. I often gave a prize (e.g., a bag of candy) for the best “help card” when I hand back the graded exams. I do not return the help cards to the students, so they cannot use the same card for the final exam. Use of the “help card” has many advantages; it indicates that the course is not about memorization, reduces the tendency to students to merely memorize facts, and encourages them to organize course material in a way that makes sense to them, and most importantly shows that you are interested in them succeeding in the course.