I’d like to apologize to my former students. All 30 years’ worth.
I’m sorry for the multiple choice questions I gave you, among which, I am sure, were some that made no sense, some that weren’t clearly written, and some that had inscrutable foils.
It’s not like I was ever a big fan of multiple choice tests, but as classes got larger, I gave in to the inevitable: tests that were heavier on short answer and lighter on essay or original answer. Because I still wanted students to have to know something and think (not just eliminate obviously incorrect answers), I tried to write questions that incorporated multiple pieces of information. And I tried to write foils that contained some truth.
My intentions were good. My efforts were exhaustive (and exhausting). And some of my results were good.
But I know there were questions that left you scratching your heads, gnashing your teeth, perhaps wishing ill on me. I do apologize.
I am writing this now because yesterday I spent a few hours completing activities for continuing education credits for my speech-language pathology license. I had to read articles and then take a quiz. I could see the questions ahead of time, and I could look at the articles while taking the quiz. Why wouldn’t I–and everyone else–get 100%?
I got 80%. On 25 questions, I made 5 errors. With 80% as the minimum passing grade, I squeaked by and received credit, but gee…
When I was done, I was able to see the questions I got wrong. There were a few for which I had debated between two possible answers, one for which I had not been able to find the correct information no matter how often I reviewed the (interminably) long article, and one for which I had no explanation (it wasn’t even on my uncertainty radar).
Many people say, “I’m not a good test taker” as an explanation for poorer-than-desired performance, but that is not true for me. I have always been a dutiful student and a good test taker, well suited for the American educational system. For me to have this much difficulty with a test makes me suspicious.
So I have to wonder if there is some karma here, a little message from the universe telling me to send out an apology for any terrible questions I might have once written.
I also know, without any doubt, that one of my better decisions as an instructor was giving students a chance to submit explanations for incorrect responses, so they could get credit despite limitations of the test. Those explanations taught me more about writing good questions and answers than anything else.
And so my former students, I both apologize for my failings and thank you for what you taught me. My 80% test score now stands as a reminder of how much I miss you.
Questions for Reflection: What memories do you have of test taking? Have you ever been responsible for preparing tests? What would you like your former teachers to know?
Writing Prompts: “When I was in school, I ______” (then keep writing); “This post brings up memories of ______” (then keep writing); “For me, test taking was always ______” (then keep writing); “When I have to take a test now, I ______” (then keep writing).