Exam Math

I teach English, not math, but when I was preparing my own students for this week’s semester exam, I explained the grading breakdown like this: “This exam is 20% of your semester grade, with 90 multiple choice questions at one point each and then a ten-point essay at the end. So…how much of your overall semester grade depends just on that essay question?”

Most of them guessed quickly and guessed wrong. Several got the right answer, but only a couple got it right away. (The answer is 2%. Basically, 10% of 20.)

That led me to share a couple of other math-based exam observations I’ve made over the years.

I asked classes what someone should do if they had a combined semester grade of 9% going into the exam. Most of them said to study and work really hard. Many of them were shocked when I said the correct answer would be to sleep in and skip it. “In that situation, you could ace the test twice and still fail the class, so what’s the point? No amount of sweating over the test at that point could save you from months of consistently bad choices, so why bother? It would be a waste of time.”

Some of the less studious among them seemed offended at the very idea, but most of them were receptive, some even seeming to have a “eureka” moment.

Then I told them that there’s another, more positive side to that coin: “What if the exam were worth 10% of the semester grade and you had earned 103% up until that point. What should you do then?”

After a variety of guesses, I again suggested that the best course of action would be sleeping in and taking the day off. Again, many were shocked, but the most studious among them seemed greatly gratified by the observation. For those who were still stymied by the idea, I gave a similar explanation: “In that situation, you could take a goose egg on the exam and still have a 93% for the semester, which looks the same as 103% on your transcript, which is what matters, so what’s the point? No amount of sweating over that test at that point could hurt or improve the bulletproof grade you’d already worked so hard to earn, so why bother? It would be a waste of time.”

I told my classes that I’d seen a lot of students over the years work their hearts out on exams for no real gain, some because their grades were too high, and some because their grades were too low.

Finally, I hastened to make clear that neither of those situations applied to any of them! I just wanted to emphasize the importance of a strong work ethic, situational awareness, and math.

 

Advertisements

Great Letter From A Teacher

Today, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a letter from a teacher about standards and testing.  It was both touching and practical.  Her story ends like this:

Let’s get back to studying science, teaching cursive writing, the stock market, great literature and history, and a remarkable thing will happen: Teachers will love to teach again and students will be a bit uncomfortable. They will stretch, be nervous and learn determination. Then, ten years later, they will still remember the requirements of an assignment that changed their lives and share it with their aging teacher.

I sent her an email thanking her for this letter.  Wise words as we start a new school year.

 

Proficiency Testing Blues

This last week we administered our high school proficiency tests, a series of three multiple choice exams which must be passed in order to graduate.  There are tests for science, math, and reading.  I proctored the two-hour science test during regular classes on Monday morning, and the math and reading tests–three hours for each–on a special day set aside for them on Tuesday.  Some events:

  • One young man put his head down less than half an hour into the three hour math test.  I nudged him and asked if he was done.  He said no and put his head back down.  A few minutes later, I saw him texting on a cell phone, so I took his test away and said that it couldn’t count now, even though he’d already done a two hour section of the test the day before (as per test security rules which I explained before the test started).  He said he didn’t care, and calmly left for the dean’s office. 

 

  • You’d think an episode like that would have made the other students less likely to play with their phones during the test.  You’d be wrong.  Such is the totality of addiction, don’t you know.

 

  • A young woman came back from lunch announcing that as soon as she was done with her test, she was getting up and leaving. During the test, her attention span must have run out, as she and the three friends around her started whispering and throwing bits of paper at each other. I moved them to desks at different corners of the room, to which she grumbled that I was difficult and irritating. She sat down and refused to keep working. A few minutes later, she also started texting. She got what she apparently wanted–I took her test and she had to go to the dean.

  Continue reading