Designing tests by topic — a lesson revisited with root beer

Last Thursday I drove out to Barnone to pick up a growler of milk stout and a grunt of their amazing draught root beer.

More blogposts need to start with draught root beer.

While I was out there I decided to pull out an old textbook to get some work started on a Twitter chat I’ll be hosting in November with GHX’s Mitchell Woll on #pedagome. (We’ll be talking multiple choice questions and you’re welcome to join us November 9th, things start about 10PM Atlantic time). While I was working on that twitter chat reviewing some old notes, I came across a lesson I thought would be useful to share.

When designing tests, it’s very easy to think about setting them up in a flow based around the question types: start with 40 multiple choice; 20 true/false; 3 short answer questions; and finish with an essay. Structuring quizzes by question type isn’t a bad idea, but there is room for improvement.

For example, when you’ve marked the test, what information can you get at a glance? Sectioning by question type might bury some of the things you can learn about your students’ learning.

Another approach you can take is to section your quizzes by the topic. For example, you might structure your quizzes similar to this:

Carbohydrates: 10 multiple choice questions; 5 true/false; 1 short answer
Proteins: 10 multiple choice questions; 5 true/false; 1 short answer
Fats: 10 multiple choice questions; 5 true/false; 1 short answer
1 Essay question randomly selected from a pool of all 3.

With this set up, you might be able to see trends on the quiz that can tell you a bit more information than what you were getting before. For example, if a student was consistently struggling with mulitple choice questions about proteins, in the bigger pool of 40 questions it might not be obvious. But structuring the test by topic gives you more of an opportunity to see that.

On the student side, instead of choosing questions based on type a student can start with the topic that they’re most confident in which might help assuage some anxiety.

If you want help redesigning your quizzes, online or off, to structure by topic, feel free to contact us in the E-Learning Office.