Monday, November 30, 2015

Should Students Write Their Own Exams? The Benefits of Innovation

Two marketing professors are espousing the view that traditional college exams, in which a professor writes an exam to assess students' knowledge of course learning objectives, may not be the most effective way to motivate students to learn. Their proposed alternative? Students write their own exams. While it is well-known that humans learn more effectively when they must manipulate materials and ideas to create a new product, rather than simply regurgitate information, many professors would undoubtedly be uneasy with the idea of students writing and taking their own exams.

In their study, the researchers asked students to create exam questions based on a range of recently covered course materials (like most exams) and then answer the questions they had written for themselves. Students were given specific guidelines in terms of what content they needed to cover in their questions, what practical learning objectives the exam should address, and the rubric that would be used to grade the exam. The questions were meant to be predominantly multiple choice, with one short essay question. Students wrote and answered their questions and brought them to class, where the normal time used to take the exam was used instead to discuss questions and answers, during which time students could alter answers, but not questions, if they wished. Then, students turned in their exams to be graded by the professors, who graded them based on the extent to which questions covered relevant course content and learning objectives, how challenging the questions were, and the accuracy of the answers.

The results may be surprising to those outside academia, but really shouldn't surprise any professional educators. Follow-up assessment showed that this method improved student learning outcomes. Because students had been forced to utilize the material at a higher level of processing, by analyzing, evaluating, and creating course information instead of memorizing and occasionally applying it, students learned more deeply. Students were thinking critically about material in the same way their professors had to in order to create an exam that would test student knowledge fairly and comprehensively. When they were required to think like those who have mastery in the subject, they were able to better approach mastery themselves. Although students reported that this method is more challenging than traditional exams, they also reported that they were more motivated to learn as a result and that their exam experience was less stressful. Although this alternative to traditional testing in higher learning is not perfect, it is an important reminder that when faculty stop thinking about education as a static system and start incorporating viable fresh perspectives, students are able to make breakthroughs in the quality of their learning.

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