The Test

As I have mentioned, the English Language Center at MCU has to test every student in the school 4 times a year. The production of this test is a huge source of stress for our teachers. Your probably asking yourself something like, what’s the big deal about a test? How hard can it be to make one?

The test itself isn’t the big deal. Anyone can make a test. The problem is that we run many different courses, and we need different tests for all of them. We have a different test for every year of study in our program, so that’s at least 4 tests (or 8 a semester; 16 a year). Sometimes, we have a different test for the same class in the day program and the night program, so there might be more tests to write. There are also classes run for non-regular students who hold full-time jobs outside the school and study part-time at night. They need a different test because their textbooks are different.

The test takes a long time to write, so every term, we have to start preparing the mid-term test and the final exam test at the start of the year. We do this in teams. One team is composed of an editor, a proofreader, and 4 or more writers. The editor looks after the mid-term and final of several tests. He or she designs the test questions and assigns them to writers. This last term, my editor was Richard. Richard chose a chapter for me and assigned me to write 1 one hundred word listening with 7 questions, 2 long dialogs (10-12 lines) with 7 questions, 2 three hundred word reading passages with 7 questions, and 5 What’s Next questions. I wrote this and sent it to him for approval and proofreading.

Keep in mind that all of this is uncompensated. Every department has tests, and all of our instructors have tests that we administer during class, but we are the only department that has to write this test. As a result, writing it is seen as extra work that we are forced to do for free and editors are seen as representatives of the university who make us do this free work. No one likes being an editor. You have to assign work to people, and if it’s not good enough, you have to make them do it again.

The test is not written by the same people from year to year. This is a real problem. A test for the same textbook and students of the same level should test the same thing. A test for the same textbook series should be more difficult for advanced students. It has been a real problem assuring that this is the case. How can you guide different writers and editors to consistently produce tests that meet this criterion?

There are further problems. The computer marks the test, so we can’t change the score. In fact, every student has to get at least 60% on the test, or they fail it. How can you make a test so that 60% means the same thing every time you give the test? Try to do that for your own classes, much less make a procedure so that different people can do it from year to year!

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