Tag Archives: testing

Assessment for Quick Feedback

This is a difficult time of year, as exams loom, the work piles up, and students need targeted help more than ever before. This post is to give a quick overview of a style of assessment I have been using lately. As I go along, I intend to write a follow-up describing how well it works.

Premise: students need to write summative assessments (ie: tests)
Problem: tests take a lot of time to grade, so feedback is usually too slow to be effective
Solution: a two-page test that separates easy-to-grade questions (multiple choice, calculate-a-number) from hard-to-grade questions (diagrams, solving problems, writing responses).

A two-page test is, as the name suggests, written on two pages of paper, stapled together. The first page consists of questions where:

(a) the answer can be instantly checked for correctness
(b) incorrect answers are anticipated, and understood to reflect some common, relevant misunderstandings

Critically, the first page needs to be something that can be checked for correctness in about 10 seconds. I design for this by having the students write their answers on blank lines on the right side of the page.

The second page consists of the regular sorts of questions where you need a few minutes to read, figure out what the student was thinking, and so forth.

When the student submits the test, the two pages get pulled apart. I quickly mark the first page. There is usually a 10-20 minute window between my first student handing in their work, and the last straggler wrapping up, so if I can mark while the tests are coming in, I can return the first page to the students about a minute after the last student finishes.

Now, the students get their near-instant feedback, and we have some time to go over the questions that gave most students problems. If I designed the test well, that means our post-test class time is spent directly addressing some of the major conceptual hurdles in the content.

As for the second page… I mark those in the regular way: when I can make time for it.

Authentic Testing

After a life sciences unit that involved a lot of microscope and model-building work, I wanted to give my grade six students a chance to demonstrate their skills and understandings in an authentic way.


First, the students came one at a time to our tree of life (above) where I gave them the seven-part (Linnean) taxonometric classification for three different species. They had two minutes each to use that classification system to find the three species and note down a letter on the namecard for each of the species. I was a bit of craziness during an otherwise-serious test, but by doing it at the back of the classroom, I don’t think any of the students were distracted.


Next, the students used a microscope to look at two very small symbols I printed onto light paper. I designed the symbols in MS Paint (now there’s a program with recurring utility!) and played around with the print scaling until the symbols were too small to resolve with the naked eye, yet still coherent after coming off the laser-printer. Each pair of symbols was taped to the upper corner of the test. The students had to sketch a copy of the symbol. I think this was a good way to determine whether each student was capable of using different objectives, moving the slide, and focusing the microscope.


Most of the test was pretty generic: write a paragraph arguing for/against viruses being alive after a reading passage about them, label a picture of a microscope, etc. For the students who finished early, or were stuck on a question, I made a word search on the back of the final page using all the terms I might want to use on the test. This kept things on an even keel for most.. but an hour is a long time to be sitting still for a student of this age.

Overall, this took so much work to set up that I am not sure it was worth the cost.