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11:45am on Friday, 10th March, 2006:

Testing Times



In the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering, our students take progress tests 7 weeks into the Autumn and Spring terms. It used to be 8 weeks, but now it's 7. They also take formative tests, gawd knows when, which involve sitting at a computer, answering multiple choice questions and being patronised for wrong answers ("No. Cut scenes are used to advance story, not the other way round.").

Because I teach computer games, I have to update my tests every year. Unlike some other subjects, the study of computer games actually advances year upon year. This year, I got my formative test questions in nice and early. However, when I was asked for some progress test questions, I thought I was being asked for formative test questions and sent those along. By the time the wires were uncrossed, the deadline for question submission was almost upon me, so I had to update the progress test rather speedily. I changed about half the questions I had from last year, to bring them into line with the updated version of the course that I was now teaching.

The way these tests work, students have 30 minutes to answer 20 multi-choice questions (37 minutes if they have dyxlesia). We want to ask more questions, but there's some Quality Assurance order that means no question can be given half a mark. We only get to ask 20 questions, they're worth a mark each, and they're multi-choice. The result of this is that we basically hand students marks on a plate. Almost all of them finish well within the 30 minutes, and the students with dislexya very seldom wish to sit around bored for the extra 7 minutes they're allowed.

When I got back in to work yesterday after my trip to the Hampshire Riviera, I found the progress test marks awaiting my approval. As I share the course concerned (EE114: half computer games, half multimedia, half baked), I only had 10 questions to look over. This is essentially a rubber-stamping exercise, except in those rare cases where there's a problem.

Ah. One of my questions was answered correctly by only 30% of the students. The incidence of problem cases obviously isn't rare enough.

I checked, and found to my dismay that the reason the students got the question wrong was because I'd taken the material from my lecture 7. However, as progress tests are in the 7th week, the students hadn't been exposed to the material. It was entirely my fault, not even mitigated by the fact that my father died like happened on House last night (because my father is still very much alive and will probably outlive his grandchildren). Thus, I had to fess up. Question 9 has been excised from the test and overall marks have been scaled up accordingly. Hopefully, I won't get beaten up too badly by the external examiner over it.

I had another question concerning salaries that only a third of students got right, but I had taught them that so the results stand. Muahaha!

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).