Teachers and Tips For Preparing Examinations

Learning to write effective examinations and other assessment tasks is one of a teacher's most demanding tasks. The 'trick' to writing an excellent task is to write one that discovers what the students know rather than what they don't know. This article will give you strategies to help you work towards that goal.

Your first aim is to develop a portfolio of assessment tasks*. Trainee teachers should begin this during their practice teaching sessions. The practising teacher should continue to add to their own portfolio items written by colleagues and by themselves. Most schools/subject departments would have stored past assessment tasks. These two sets of assessment tasks become the material that can be used to help the teacher write an examination/assessment task. These past papers provide:

    Examples of the types of questions that may be asked on a topic;
    A range of questions from simple to complex for skill questions as well as questions requiring higher order thinking skills (problem solving);
    An idea on how many questions can be asked in the time available for the examination/assessment task.

Please note:Be careful to select questions from these past papers that reflect how as well as what you have taught. Just because a question has been used in an examination/assessment task in the past does not mean it is a valid item for you to use.

With your work program, text book and other book resources on hand, search through the past papers for possible questions you might use. Make sure the questions you select fit in with your work program, first and foremost. Next, these questions must address the assessment criteria that your syllabus suggests. These might be, in simple terms, communication/language, basic skills and problem solving. If you cannot find an appropriate question on a topic, write your own based on how you taught that topic. Make sure you have more questions than you can use.

Once you have these questions, remember these points before you write your first draft.

    Decide what percentage of the marks/paper goes to each topic to be tested. This could reflect the time spent on the topic as well as the importance of the topic.
    Make sure you have a range of questions from the simple to the difficult in the skills area. This will allow most, if not all, students to get started on the examination.
    Additionally, do the same with your higher order thinking skills/problem solving questions.
    When you set a question with a series of parts, make sure that the parts begin with the simplest part first and get more difficult with each new part. This will encourage students to continue to try each part.

Now write your first draft.

Your next task is to actually do the examination yourself. You do this to see how much time you require to do the examination. A rule of thumb that was given to me by an experienced teacher early in my career was to multiply my time by three to get a student's time. The second reason that you work the paper is to ensure that the questions ask what you want to ask and are clear in meaning.

Now, edit your test and have another teacher proofread the test. This teacher's job is to look for errors in spelling and grammar first of all. Then he/she checks that the questions all make sense and give a clear indication to the students of the task involved.

Produce a completed answer sheet. This should contain a marking scheme or a set of marking criteria detailing how the marks are to be allocated or how the criteria are to be used to determine the result for each question.

These marks should be attached to each question or a set of general marking criteria should be printed on the test paper. Putting the actual marking criteria on the paper may lead students towards an approach to answering the question especially in the area of higher order thinking/problem solving questions.

Your last task before the test is to arrange for the printing of the papers. Don't forget to allow for misprinted sheets, copies for other teachers and copies for official school files.

Many teachers like to organise a practice test beforehand. They may use past papers for this so when you are setting a paper for a group of teachers, you need to be sure that no teacher used the same question/s in their practice test. The best way to ensure this does not happen is to write/create a practice test yourself and pass it on to your colleagues.

Once the test has been done and the papers marked, it is important to evaluate the success of the test. In your file, write comments on how it can be improved. If it is a test that you will use again with a new class in the future, rewrite it to improve it.

Remember, the writing of assessment tasks of any type is not an easy or quick task. It is not a task easily learnt. You will always be on a learning curve. It is just the nature of the 'game'.

*I use the terms "assessment tasks, tasks, examinations papers and tests" interchangeably in this article.

Article Source: Richard D Boyce

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