Dr. Fred Mayo shares test creation tips and offers ways to reduce student test-taking anxiety. “A good test question is like a clean window; it does not get in the way of seeing what the student does and does not know.” Mary Ellen Weimer
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
This month we are starting a four-month series on testing, test taking, test making and helping students review for testing. This is a very appropriate set of topics for this time of year.
For many of us, testing is one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching, especially the grading (which I will discuss in the future); however, for others it can be a creative and useful aspect of teaching.
Purposes of Testing
Although one of the goals of testing is to keep records on how students are performing so we can file grades, make decisions about promotion, select persons for awards, or grant scholarships, there are other reasons to conduct regular and fair testing. One of the most important functions is to provide feedback to students about how well they understand the material they have learned. When done well, testing provides information to students that they may not necessarily obtain in other ways. While we may provide a number of comments about their contribution to discussion, their cooking skills, and their organizational abilities, there is no way to measure their memory or critical thinking without them sharing their thinking and writing. Shorter testing techniques – such as multiple choice, short essay, fill in, matching, and problem solving – can also provide evidence to students about how well they understand and can apply various concepts and procedures.
In addition, testing can also provide us with insights about how well we are explaining information or demonstrating skills. If some students demonstrate a command of the material and some don’t, it is more typically a measure of their learning. If not one or almost no one can answer a question on a test, it may indicate a bad question or it may indicate that we have not taught that material very well. When I am trying to figure out whether it is a test question or an overall assessment of their knowledge, I remember one of my favorite ideas about preparing tests. Mary Ellen Weimer wrote, “A good test question is like a clean window; it does not get in the way of seeing what the student does and does not know,” in her excellent book “Learner Centered Teaching.”
Unfortunately, many students are scared of tests.
Reducing Test Anxiety in Students
One way we can help our students demonstrate what they know is to recognize and reduce test anxiety in our students. One of the most effective strategies is to provide many tests. Getting students used to taking tests reduces the massive impact of a single test since there are many chances to demonstrate what they have learned. Taking many tests also builds their skills in taking tests, and their successful experience in taking tests can increase their confidence, something critical in all culinary courses.
A second strategy is to provide choices of questions to answer within a test. It takes away the anxiety of what is being tested and helps students avoid the experience of brain freeze about a topic or concept. You lower the fear of failure by giving students options. When I create short essay question tests, I typically give the students a choice of the questions they can answer – sometimes, it is a matter of selecting 10 questions to answer out of 18, sometimes it is 5 out of 8. Giving students a choice shows them that I want them to do well and empowers them to make decisions within a test.
A third strategy is to provide organizing frameworks for study or in-class reviews. One way is to teach them and then encourage them to mind map the key concepts in the course. It shows connections and relationships and gets students to review books and their notes. A second organizing framework involves encouraging study groups so that they test each other and review material in small groups. Another in-class and fun review activity is to play bingo with words and concepts. I give them a sheet of words and they use it to fill in 36 boxes. You can also use 25 boxes. I then provide the definition or an example of each word I have given them and the students quietly mark the concept I have explained. The first horizontal, vertical or diagonal line wins, although I check them carefully since sometimes they match the wrong word with my explanation. It is a low risk and fun way of reviewing material.
I hope that these thoughts will help you expand your approach to testing. Next month, we will move on to another aspect of teaching – test-taking skills for students.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.