One conclusion I’ve come to after years teaching – testing and assessment are poorly used as a way for students to learn.

This is curious and unfortunate because students for the most part DO get motivated and energized through tests and quizzes. The pickle is, the way they are designed doesn’t make the test a learning experience and rather is meant to trick students.  I’m calling for all teachers to review the way they test and I’m offering one example using the popular convention of testing – multiple choice questions.

I recently began one of my classes by writing the following on the board. A typical, 3 truths / 1 lie activity where students try to guess the lie.

This year I resolve to ….

1.  grow my hair long

2. plan my classes better

3.  travel the world and teach

4.  get a new coffee maker

It’s a great activity for teachers to share themselves and also for students to do and allow the teacher to get to know them. However, I’m teaching teachers so I took this opportunity to go beyond the activity and ask them what this multiple choice question might say about assessment and how we decide / design these questions.

What’s remarkable about this question is that you can pose it two ways.  One – which statement is the lie?   Two – which 3 statements are the truth?   Now you might think this is just semantics but I believe if we created multiple choice, standardized assessments where the students were asked to not choose just one right answer but  three right answers – they’d learn a lot more. They’d be encountering a lot of “right” knowledge and not trying to side step through a labyrinth of wrong.

Here’s another example.

A typical standardized multiple choice question for language students might be;

Beth ___________ to the store every day.

a) has   b) is    c)  went    d) liked

A multiple choice test that would actually give students more success and help them learn would be them choosing the 3 appropriate language forms.

Beth ________ to the store every day.

a)  went      b) likes    c) goes   d) has gone

It’s important that students choose 3 right answers and not be asked to choose the 1 wrong answer. This way, we can give marks for right answers. This way they feel “success”.

This is just one of many ways we could rethink assessment and make it more about “learning” and less about tricking students. Do you have any other ways?

PS.  The 3 correct resolutions for this year are 2,3,4!