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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Open Book Tests Part 2 - How it went

Before you start to read I have to warn you that I don't yet have the results of the tests and therefore I don't know how the students have done or what problems they may have had. I left the tests at work yesterday and will be marking them this evening.

What I can say is that the students all appeared to be thinking hard whilst doing the test - I was actually writing some report cards but I had one eye on them all the time (I don't know where I've managed to learn the ability to write without looking at the paper properly!) and they were all concentrated on their work, sometimes looking up to think about something.

Funnily enough, a couple of the students didn't seem to open their books at all. I don't think this is because the test was easy for them but because it was actually harder and would take longer to find the appropriate section in the book than to think it through themselves. This was really one of my objectives for doing the test this way - they would have to think about the answers, using the material available to help them. In a state of such high concentration (as opposed to the usual fun and chatty atmosphere of the class), they would perhaps be more likely to take in and internalise the information and language they were reading about in the book and using in the test exercises.

Most of the learners used their books at some stage, but it seemed to be after thinking about a question that they opened their books, to check the answer they had already formed in their heads. In any case, as I had warned them before we started, they would not have time to look up everything.

One of the problems I had foreseen would be whether or not the tests would actually do their purpose and show me what the students know and what they don't. However, I think that if somebody really didn't know, for example, when to use "will" and "going to", that this will still be apparent in their answers. If they have been looking up individual examples in their book, there are likely to be mistakes in their test. In any case, the point is that even if they weren't sure about something before doing the test, it is quite possible that now, after looking in their books and doing the test, that they understand it.

I will be looking carefully at the test papers this evening. Rather than the number of correct answers, I will be focussing on the areas where the students generally did well, and those that seem to need more work. I will check for consistency within the same grammar point or lexical area for each student.

I think that even if the circumstances of the test turn out to not be ideal, something postive will have been taken from it. The learners felt that there were being some concessions made to them and they felt more confident having their book in front of them, like a kind of security blanket. The latter I believe to be important because it means the affective filter was higher than in a traditional test situation and hopefully this will have provided better working conditions for the students.

I will be asking them next lesson if they thought doing the exam in this way was a good idea, if there could be any improvements, how they felt during the test, if they used their books much etc.

I will report back on their opinions and my conclusions after marking the tests.

Thanks for reading :)

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After marking the tests I can say that being able to use their books has not actually helped the students do the test - to be honest, they haven't done as well as I had expected - it is possible that looking in their books may have confused them on some points, but the general impression I have is that they haven't taken advantage of the situation. They don't seem to have looked up the rules for the grammar that was being tested but have relied on their own knowledge, and they ecrtainly haven't used to their books to find examples of collocations that appeared in the test since the questions they got right are of examples they have come across many times.

As I mentioned in the original post, I think I will have to show them how to use their books to find relevant information. Just as they would need training in making notes, they need training in using reference materials.

This has been an experiment, and I am not going to take their test results into account for their end of term reports, because I don't think they are accurate enough. What is clear though, is that if I want to give a test in similar conditions in the future, I am going to have to show the students how to look for information. We will need to do some practice on looking for specific information (scanning) and transferring rules and examples into different types of exercise.

I do think that having their books available for consultation was comforting for the students, but it is clear from the results that they found the test difficult. This obviously isn't very motivating - doing badly in a test is one of the worst things that can happen to a language learner - but I think it will show the learners a need for a change in attitude (they can be particularly lazy). The test was difficult and I will make sure this is clear to the learners, and I plan on going over the exercises and asking the students to find the appropriate pages in the book, encouraging them to find similar examples and rules that they needed to do the exercise well.

The most important thing I need to do today though, is reassure the students that they are making progress, they are improving their English and that their test result isn't so important. What is really important is the work they do every day in class and this is what will be reflected in their reports.

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