Table of Contents

Testing & Grading

46. Preparing Students for Tests

Students should know exactly what will be on their tests. Ideally, everything learned in the class should be on the test. However, tests cannot really be expected to be truly comprehensive both because of the amount of time it would take students to complete them and because of the unacceptable amount of time teachers would need to grade them. Naturally, only a sampling of the material taught would appear on the test. Therefore, tests must be constructed in such a way that forces student to study all the material presented in the course, yet tests them on only a fraction of that material.

Rather than telling students that everything included in the course is liable for inclusion on tests, students should receive, at the beginning of the course, a comprehensive study guide containing a comprehensive listing of terms and questions to study and for which to gather answers. If these terms and questions are constructed correctly, their answers would effectively represent all of the material taught in the course. The students would then be told that this list includes all of the information and questions that will be on their tests, but because of time limitations, only a random sampling of these questions and terms would actually appear. For example, at the beginning of a course students would be given a list of perhaps 200 questions, terms, and concepts they must know and that, when studied for properly, would represent a comprehensive knowledge of the course. But the student would also be told that 15 questions and 5 terms (for example) from this list would be chosen randomly just before the start of the final exam.

The list of questions that is given to students at the beginning of the course should be arranged in the order in which they are planned to be covered in class. This would help students focus on developing comprehensive answers to these questions. If these questions are worded properly, a correct answer would require that students have gained a comprehensive understanding of the material.

There could be many benefits to using this kind of system. Students would be guided in their studies by knowing exactly what to study for (basically everything in the course), they would feel more confident and enthusiastic as a result of the reduction of the ‘unknown’ factor so often found in testing, they could spend less time taking notes in class (because they would know exactly what information they would need in order to fill in gaps in their knowledge rather than just write everything down), they could spend more time listening intently to the lecturer, and they may be able to ask more intelligent questions that would help build a greater comprehension of the subject. Students would also be able to study ahead with the confidence that they are not wasting time studying things that will not be on the test because nobody knows what will be on the test until the random drawing is performed on the day of the test. The use of well-written lecture notes by the instructor would further enable students to concentrate on filling in gaps in their knowledge.


47. Testing – More Intensive

Courses intended to be longer than about 100 hours should be designed in such a way (i.e., providing multiple tests such as midterms and/or chapter tests) so that portions of the course could be repeated if needed, rather than forcing the student to find out at the end of the course if the whole course needs to be repeated. This way students would be forced to study harder throughout the course due to the higher frequency of testing as well as reducing their chances of failing entire classes at a time. Final examinations should still be cumulative.
The use of self-tests would allow such a system of higher frequency testing to be implemented without requiring significantly extra time from the teacher or instructor. As a regular part of educational courses, several questions of all types (including essay questions) should be included at the end of each section or chapter. Students would be required to answer these questions when they get to them and would themselves check these answers against scoring keys held at the educational institution (for primary and secondary school courses) and perhaps at the end of textbooks (or otherwise included in course packages) for college and university students. The students would correct and grade these tests themselves giving them an indication as to how well prepared they are to being on track for the final exam. Of course, the teacher or instructor would grade all final exams.

The passing grade for all tests should be set at no less than 75% (3 out of 4 questions). Too many people failing a test are an indication that the test is too hard, not that the passing grade should be lowered. Such tests should be redesigned.

Self-tests and the final exam administered to a student who has previously failed that section or the entire course should contain mostly different questions, or at least differently worded questions, than the original exams taken. The test should not be harder, just different.

More Essay Tests

Essay tests should be used more throughout all levels of education. Though they do take significantly more time to grade, the effectiveness of an education would be greatly enhanced. If self-testing methods are used, educators may have more time to spend grading essay questions.

Oral Exams

Students in many, if not most, secondary and higher grade primary schools should have the option of being administered some tests (either in part or in whole), even including final exams, orally with the professor or teacher. Not only would this help make students better speakers and communicators in general as well as benefit them in several other areas, but it would also potentially save the professor time by reducing the number of written papers to grade. Of course, the student would need to meet with the professor, likely at the educational facility itself so that the oral test could be conducted in person.

Students in primary school may utilize oral tests to a great extent on certain subjects, as well.


48. Grading on a Curve

Educators at the primary school level should be prohibited from grading students on a curve, while educators at secondary and high institutions should at least be encouraged not to use such grading methods. Instead, absolute grading systems should be used that are based upon an absolute mastery of the content.

Some of the benefits provided by curved grading (i.e., dividing students according to their performance relative to their peers) could just as easily and possibly more accurately be provided by making absolute class grades available on a list ranked from highest to lowest grades. At the same time, the inherent unfairness associated with basing grade cutoff points on relative performance rather than on an absolute mastery of the course would be eliminated.

If students know enough to pass a test, they should pass the test regardless of how many others passed the same test.

Sometimes tests could be too hard. If the test maker agrees that this may be a possibility, the test maker may decide to include, at their discretion, additional ‘extra point’ questions that students would have the option of answering and whose points would be valid only if the teacher finds that the entire class as a whole scored below a certain threshold. This way students could essentially purchase a kind of insurance in case the entire class scores poorly.

An alternate, but inferior, method would be to allow the instructor to shift the entire grading scale down 5 percentage points so that a 95% score would factored as a 100% score, and a 75% score would be factored as an 80%. The spread of the grading scale would not be changed, however, so that if an B could only have been achieved by scoring between 80% and 90% (a 10 point spread) under the original scale, an B would now be given for grades between 70% and 80% (again, a 10 point spread). Only for an A grade would the spread be increased from a 10-point spread (90%-100%) to a 15-point spread (85%-100%). This would be a little unfair, however, because a 100% score would lose some of its luster since an 95% score would now be equivalent.


49. A+/A Grade Point Values, General Grading System

It is very wrong for an A+ to be equivalent to an A grade in terms of the grade point values assigned to them. This defect of the grading system could be easily corrected by just redefining an A+ as being equal to a 4.001- 4.333 GPA. Flat A’s would continue to be 3.667 – 4.00 GPA, A- would be between 3.334 – 3.666, a B+ would be between 3.001 – 3.333, etc.

However, I think a more logical, more accurate, and ultimately more reasonable solution would be to construct a grading system that is based more directly on the ratio between how many questions the student got correct versus how many questions were on the test (i.e., a percentage-based grading system). Naturally, many academic projects such as research papers, reports, etc., cannot really be given a grade using such a grading system. In these cases, conventional letter grades may be justifiably given. Nevertheless, they will, in all likelihood, need to be converted into the same type of grading system used for all other graded activities to facilitate the calculating of a final grade for the course or for calculating an average grade for the student for the year, or whatever.


50. Answers Written on Tests Proper

As much as possible, answers to test questions should be written on the test itself. All tests with questions which require answers that can reasonably be expected to run for half a page or less should provide space on the test proper for the student to write the answer on the test. Only for questions with answers that can reasonably be expected to run for more than half a page could test makers be allowed to require students to write their answers for such questions on separate paper. Otherwise, unnecessary time demands, difficulty and complexity is introduced during the critical testing period by requiring students to write every answer on a separate sheet of paper and coming up with their own method of formatting and referencing their answers to the questions on the test sheet. Additionally, writing answers on a test would help students more easily catch any answers they may have accidentally skipped over.


51. Student Testing Materials

All testing materials (for colleges and universities) should either be provided at the place and time that the test is to be taken, or the materials brought by the student (pencil, erasers, calculator, papers, etc.) should be checked to make sure that they are not able to be used for cheating.


52. Standard Format for Student Papers

Papers written in primary schools (especially in the higher primary grades) should be written in a format that has been standardized across all disciplines. Students should not fret over correctly following one of several different formats in which professors could choose to require their students to write. One format should be enough to fit the requirements of any and all disciplines including psychology, philosophy, biology, mathematics, geology, etc. Standardizing paper writing formats would allow students to devote more time to actual productive study rather than to try to figure out merely stylistic, procedural, and non-productive communication practices.

Teachers and instructors who require papers to be written in any format other that the standard format, should not only provide a good reason for such a requirement, but should also provide students with a sample full length paper written in such a format for the purpose of showing the students how to properly structure, format, cite, and reference sources according to the instructor’s preferences. Otherwise, the educational facilities themselves should either create or, preferably, otherwise obtain conventionally published reference books for students to refer to that would detail every possible common paper formatting style that that educational institution (but preferably any educational institution in the country) is likely to require.


53. Student Test/Class Rank Postings

Students should be able to know how they ranked compared to others in their class on tests. Teachers/professors should provide students with this data in a timely manner. Furthermore, it would be nice if statistical analysis (standard deviation, class average, etc.) were also provided. This should be the general practice at all educational institutions with perhaps the major exceptions being primary schools because such students may be too immature to properly understand or handle the data.


54. Testing Rooms

This proposal is applicable to tests given for all independent courses in which tests are taken whenever the student states their readiness to take tests. All testing rooms should be away from all common audible or visual distractions and allow several people to take different tests simultaneously, but well separated from each other. Each test-taker would go to the test site supervisor, ask for his test, and then be directed to a their individual testing desk. These desks should, if possible, be set up in a way so that the test-takers would not see the supervisor looking at them. Each testing desk would have a clock that sets the time allowed for the test and counts down to zero. When time runs out the supervisor would be alerted and a light would blink on the device notifying the student that the time has elapsed. The test site supervisor, who is also keeping track of each student’s time, would then come by and pick up the test if the student had not already finished and submitted it to the supervisor. The desk would then be available for the next test taker. With this system, many students could take different tests at the same time, while each may have different starting and finishing times. The testing room should have several closed circuit cameras so that the test site supervisor could more effectively monitor activities in the room to ensure an absence of cheating.

Sound Proof Testing Rooms

Tertiary educational facilities could also have small, individual, sound proof testing rooms that individuals may choose to use, for a fee, so that they could talk out loud to themselves without disturbing anyone else.


55. Students to Keep All Tests for Their Records

Students should be allowed to keep their final exams, or at least a copy, after they have been scored. Primary and secondary schools should be required to keep a copy of all tests and, if requested, personally give them to the parents of the student at the end of the school year, upon completion of the class, or upon graduation from primary or secondary school.

In secondary schooling and higher, all tests and other important materials turned in for a grade should be photocopied or digitally copied or in some reliable way recorded by the school after they have been graded but before being given back to the students.


56. Student Graded Essays

In order to show students how hard it is to score essay-type questions and tests, students themselves should be required to grade other students’ tests. Perhaps the students doing the grading should also sometimes write papers describing the process, especially including difficulties they have encountered while making decisions on how to grade various parts of these test and how they have struggled with ascribing actual point values to some of the difficult, borderline answers. Students doing the grading should also interact with the students whose tests they have graded so that each side could both better understand how to write improved essay answers and also understand the difficulty of ascribing an always completely accurate grade to each essay question and test.

Such a system could be used, at least in part, to help alleviate some of the workload that teachers and professors have when it comes to grading by allowing students to do the bulk of the grading for certain tests. Inevitably, students whose tests have been graded by other students will often dispute those grades with the teacher or professor. The teacher or professor could then review the essay answers on disputed tests and make a final determination on that point.

To prevent students from flooding the professor with requests to review numerous grading disputes, the professor could place an arbitrary limit on the number of individual disputes any one student can bring to the professor concerning any one test. Furthermore, each student whose complaints were not justified would either suffer a reduction in the number of disputes that the same student could bring to the professor in the future, or the subtraction of an additional point on the exam in which the dispute was shown to be unfounded. This deduction would serve as a penalty to the student for bringing up a matter to the professor without justifiable cause, regardless of how honest the student’s intentions were.


57. Testing Long-Term Retention of Knowledge

To gauge the long-term retention of information by primary and secondary school students, a random sampling of graduates should be tested, 2, 5 and/or 10 years after their graduation. They may be compensated for their time and effort by the government or school district. Such testing would help refine the development of a curriculum by finding out what pieces of knowledge are retained by former students and for how long. This may also encourage curriculum designers more focused on core materials and explaining them well, while minimizing tangential or peripheral information.


58. Retaking College Courses

Students who wish to retake a class to improve their grade, even though they have successfully passed it on their previous attempt, should be allowed to do so only once and only if they enroll to retake the class within one year of receiving their official final grade for their first attempt. If a lower grade was received on the 2nd go around, the original grade would be the final official grade. Students who have failed a class could elect to take it again as many times as they would like until they pass.

However, with each repetition, the maximum allowable grade and the entire grading scale should be set to the equivalent of one/half to one full letter grade lower than what would have been possible during the previous completion or attempted completion of the same course. Students would be allowed to complete the same class three or more times and, though all these repetitions and their grades would be recorded in the student’s official transcripts, only the highest of the first three attempts could be used to affect the student’s GPA and other academic calculations. Students would be able to exercise this option at a maximum rate of once per year throughout their secondary education career.

For government subsidized tertiary educational institutions, students wishing to enroll in a class for a 2nd repetition would be required to pay the original cost of registration plus 50% of the subsidized cost for that class. Students enrolling in a 3rd and subsequent repetitions should pay the full, unsubsidized price for such courses. In no case, however, should students pay more than the unsubsidized, market value costs.