Difficulty Writing Exams (When effort and outcome do not match.)

Student Exam Writing

Student exam writing can be challenging. As an educational strategist, parents often come to me with the following: “My child does really well on assignments. They bring their assignments home, they’re doing really well, and then they take an exam and they bomb. What’s up with that?”

Parents go on to tell me that their student would study. They had family members quiz them, and they answered all the questions correctly, but when they went to write an exam, they failed or received a low grade.

Here’s the reason they bomb. Students often don’t know how to write an exam, and in our current, government structured system, when we do write an exam, it’s often for all of the marbles. So, the obvious question would be, how do you get better at writing exams? You get better at writing exams by practicing writing them.

Look, you don’t become a really good hockey player by hanging out at the tennis courts. You have to practice. The same is true for students and writing exams. So, how do you do that? It really is easier than you think. First of all, figure out what type of test or exam your student is going to take. For example, is it short answer, true or false, essay or multiple choice. Once you have that figured out you are ready to rock and roll!

You can assist your student in practicing by getting a subscription to the exam bank. (Most provinces have them. Alberta has an exam bank (alberta.exambank.com). Once you have a subscription you can then log on and pull down practice exams by grade, subject and topic area. Once you have an exam downloaded, print it out. Do not have your child do the answers on the computer. Why? Glad you asked that. Your child will likely be answering using pen and paper or pencil and paper (scantron) and if they practice on a computer screen the brain does not see it as the same thing. Once you have a clean copy printed out, you go in as a parent and answer all the questions. Don’t worry, you don’t even have to read the questions, simply mark in a,b,c, or d. Then hit submit. The exam bank program will then generate a key to the exam you just printed for your student. Now you can have a key! (Are you staying with me? Print out an entire batch of tests.) You can continue this process until your student is scoring consistently high on the test you are giving. Using this process, not only do you allow your child to practice but you also expose him/her to the verbiage often used in exam questions. (Added bonus) Remember to print a wide variety of tests in order to ensure your student has mastered the topic area.

**Just an aside, the author does not feel multiple choice exams are a good way to assess knowledge. Given that most of the exams our students encounter are mainly testing the ability to recall. You should know, recall is the lowest form of thinking. So what are they hoping to get from these type of exams?