Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Grading Thing

I often tell my first year students that writing an exam is the hardest thing I do and grading them the most miserable.

Now I have heard of a new way to handle both tasks. Substitute hours of constructing an exam with a few seconds of changing the date on last year’s exam. As for grading, multiply choice, machine graded (mcmg) tests are just the ticket.

Obviously, this saves an enormous amount of time but I am not sure what the grades mean. My premise here is that most first year teachers, in particular, devote a fair – if not most – of their time to critical thinking and analysis. Most issues the students see have a Rashomon like quality. I am far from convinced that a mcmg exam is a useful tool for assessing the development of those skills. Worse, if you are known to be mcmg person I think it is likely that students know not to take much of what goes in class seriously unless you are just downloading information. Mcmg people may say that there is correlation between how students do on complex essay questions and mcmg exams but that may only hold for the first couple of times giving the mcmg exam.After that, the professor is teaching one thing and the students are preparing for a test on something else.

Even if good multiple choice questions can be written for law courses and I believe it is possible beyond the first year, it is very difficult. That difficulty leads to the recycling temptation. If you recycle multiple choice questions and do not think many of the questions are “out,” please get in touch with me because your powers of rationalization are far beyond mine and I would sincerely like to escape my own feelings of regret about some of my own misdeeds.

Ok, so let me predict. Those of you who use mcmg exams are annoyed because I have called into question your work ethic and integrity. Of course not! What I am actually saying is that recycled mcmg testing in law schools "gives me pause," "concerns me," "puzzles me," "makes me wonder," "may require extra care," "needs careful consideration" or "is a good idea for some." And, if you have checked to determine whether your recycled mcmg exam actually tests what you are teaching, I am not even saying anything that harsh.

I think one of the tenets of MoneyLaw is to do all the functions of a teacher – even the grunge of assigning grades – so that stakeholders are not shortchanged. It seems to me that recycled mcmg tests and, for that matter, recycled short answer questions may be like giving $2 back to a customer who has given you a $5 for a $1 item. But then the privileged make the rules -- even when it comes to making change, don’t they?

Of course maybe I am just irritated about grading 180 essay exams.

All kidding aside, this is one thing I really would like to be wrong about. If you give mcmg exams to your first year class, how about sharing one in the comments area along with your explanation of what the question tests. I'd like to be converted to your point of view. But first, I'd appreciate if you would respond to following poll.

Do you use multiple choice questions on your final exam.
None at all
For less than half of final exam grade.
For more than half but not all of the final exam grade.
For the entire final exam grade.
Free polls from Pollhost.com


Anonymous said...

As a first year student, i also wonder about the effectiveness of multiple choice exams. I've taken one this past semester and my professor has told me that it distinguishes and separates students--mens from the boys i guess.

Actually it just confuses us and throws us for a loop because it's so difficult to have a complete line of reasoning on a MC exam. I did very well my first semester, but one grade wasn't as good as i would have liked. I didn't feel like it measured what i learned and understood in the class. It was a MC exam--pick right answer or die. How can we be expected to pick the right answer without reason when all semester there are no right answers and all we have is reasoning? I prefer the essay exams, at least i get to build up an answer that flows right and just makes sense (well at least to me, i'm sure it's very choppy due to time pressure, but what can you do)

Anonymous said...

I am also a first year student, and I completely agree with the comment above. MC exams in law school are ridiculous and schools shouldn't allow the professors to give them.

Our professor gave us the line of having 250 students and no time to grade essays-too bad! Then pick another profession. By giving MC exams they are taking the most important reasoning, analyzing and explaining component out of us.

In the future, if I know a professor gives a MC final exam, I will not take his course, it's not worth it.