Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Exams by Andy Jobson

Everyone knows that exams are stressful for students.  For students who have not performed well during the semester, the exam can ‘make or break’ the credit, determining if a course must be repeated.  Even for the good students, the ones who care deeply about their grades, the exam can make the difference between an A or a B.

American students, though, might like to know that British students face a much more stressful exam time.  For one thing, the exams tend to come only at the end of the year, meaning that you have to remember a whole year’s worth of material.  For another, the exam can represent half of the final grade; at my school, the exam is only worth 20% of the semester.  When I spent my junior year abroad, stories were rampant of the various ways students coped (or failed to cope) with the anxiety.  One of my favorites involved a student who brought a teddy bear (presumably as a comfort) to the exam; midway through, he received permission to visit the loo.  Upon his return, he glanced at his paper and grew enraged.  “Why haven’t you done more than this?”  he yelled at his bear.  “Don’t you realize the time?”  He then proceeded to tear the bear apart.  (Of course, since I didn’t observe this directly, I cannot swear to its veracity!)

Students need to understand that exams can be stressful for teachers, too.  I always fret about whether I’m being too tough or too easy.  Did I cover the material sufficiently?  Did I ask the questions in a fair way?  Multiple choice tests can be challenging to write; I want my answers to have one clear ‘best’ answer without having too many ridiculous options.  Essay and short answer tests are easier to write, but tougher to grade.  How do I determine the point value of various questions?  What must a student say in order to receive full credit?

Mostly, though, the exam tells me if I’ve been successful in reaching my students.  What do they recall?  Did I manage to make them care about the material enough to prepare?  It’s always disheartening to see the occasional blank page, where a student clearly remembers nothing.  It can be ironic when a student displays absolutely no understanding or knowledge of anything I tried to teach, then writes on the final page something like “Thanks for being a great teacher!” 
I do sometimes laugh at the responses; we’ve all seen our share of crazy answers.  One of my favorites this year was in response to the question, “What book in 1798 launched the Romantic Movement in Britain?”  More than one thought the safest answer was Romanticism for Dummies.  A few others, possibly already thinking of college, wrote Romanticism 101.

Any teachers out there want to share the best ‘wrong’ answers to your exams this year?  Please share below.  Have a great, test-free summer! 

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.