Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can a perfect Exam be Constructed?

by Marciano "m-16" A. Paroy Jr.

I recently attended a seminar on Language Testing at the College of Teacher Education of the Mariano Marcos State University-Laoag Campus. The training activity was an opportunity for the participating teachers to be upgraded as to their ability to construct examination items – with the ultimate goal of coming up with a perfect test to be administered to students.
I beg to differ. No examination – as one whole package – can cover all the skills that a student has learned inside the classroom. Learning is a multi-faceted process and the teaching that was made by the instructor to induce such learning is even more complex, thus making it difficult to come up with one examination which will ideally encompass all that was taught inside the classroom. Considering that an examination for a subject usually lasts an hour, then that would be wishful thinking.
An exam, however, may attempt to cover as much lessons as it possibly could and extract them from the examinee through a series of creatively designed portions in the exam paper – but not all. Again.
Usually, a teacher first gives a multiple choice test, then supply tests (filling-in the blanks, identification, enumeration, etc.) and ends it all with two or three essay questions. That instrument alone is a close-to-perfect tool already to look into the level of learning that a student has amassed before sending him to the next semester – well, assuming that the items were carefully planned-out so as to be worthy of their status as college students.
The trainers – who were PhD students asked to come up with a seminar as their final requirement in one of their courses at MMSU Graduate School – did not, at least, send out the notion that a perfect examination can truly be constructed. Otherwise they would have faced a barrage of contradictory views from most of us in the audience.
Near the end of the seminar, participants – as always – were encouraged to ask questions. Several hands flew up, mostly from the 4th year BSEd and BEEd students of MMSU who were also asked to attend.
The first two questions went out fine, and indeed they were gray areas that needed to be clarified for them. But when the succeeding questions were aired out, my right eyebrow automatically raised itself. Why not, the students were asking questions whose answers were fully covered during the lecture sessions. The lecturers were polite and patient enough to give full responses – perhaps realizing that the questions were coming from students.
However, student or not, a participant should have fully been attentive during the course of the seminar. It is irritating to listen to questions whose answers can be found in earlier pronouncements. So when I was singled out to give my impressions at the end of the seminar, I pointed out that it is surprising to note that the students who will become future teachers were throwing questions regarding some areas that were earlier discussed. This implies that the concerned participants attended the activity with the pre-conceived notion that the lecturers would be unable to cover this or that certain area – and that the accompanying question would be asked at the next available opportunity.
More importantly, this implies that the students who asked the questions were not listening at all – just waiting for the chance to ask their questions.
On the part of the lecturers, I gave my appraisal that they made a great attempt at coming up with carefully selected topics – and ended up with a competent presentation. Still, I reminded the students that the lectures were sort of prescriptive in nature – they are not rules that one has to strictly live by, because when they shall be joining the teaching profession, they will soon find out that the task of constructing an examination is a case-to-case basis, backed up by their own individual teaching experiences.
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It is enrollment season once again. I hope our students at the Kalinga-Apayao State College shall go back inside the classroom with a refreshed energy and commitment this second semester.
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We have incoming part-time instructors as well. Welcome to the KASC family.

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