Monday, January 11, 2016

Why Frequent Exams are Better

Implementing exams throughout courses is a necessary evil, and it has been widely accepted by students and instructors alike that the times of midterms and finals are times of panic and disarray.  However, this anxiety might be less about the fact that students are required to take a test and more about the lack of test-taking they’ve experienced previously in the class.

In 2007, a study was completed in which a control group was set to have students only complete two midterm exams and a cumulative final throughout the semester.  This was in turn compared to an experimental group that required the completion of biweekly exams (six in total) as well as the same cumulative final as the control group.  The findings from this study proved very interesting indeed.

Students a part of the experimental group with biweekly exams scored, on average, about 10 percentage points (or one letter grade) higher on exams throughout the semester.  Plus, they scored about 15 percentage points higher on the final than students in the control group.

This wasn’t the only thing that had shown to be different between these two groups.  The control group experienced a decline in student enrollment when more than 11 percent of the students withdrew from the course.  Not a single student withdrew from the experimental section.  The improvement frequent exams made on the course was also seen in course ratings, as students who were a part of the experimental group rated the course and instructor higher overall in each.  In fact, 71 percent of students in the control group rated their instructor as “one of the best” they’ve had, vs. just a 36% rating from the control group.  (Note that both of these courses were taught by the same professor.)

So why was so much improvement seen between these two groups?  What is it about frequent exams that make the class more valuable to students?

Students are consistently exposed to information.  This paired with less material to learn at a time for the biweekly exams helped contribute to overall retention and understanding of course material.  This also amounted to receiving feedback more frequently and earlier on in the semester, allowing students to gauge what they should change about their learning habits in order to improve their scores.

Tip Provided By: Jessica Moser

Myers, C.B., and Myers, S.M. (2007). Assessing assessments: The effects of two exam formats on course achievement and evaluation. Innovative Higher Education, 31, 227–236.

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