Cultural Anthropology Week 5: Test Crafting

March 12th, 2015

This class, the fifth, started with the sole midterm exam. It is also the first graded thing of this semester. It was also the first test I ever made, which I found kind of exciting.

There were more variables for me to consider in designing a test than I had realized. I settled on giving the students a hour to do fifteen multiple choice questions and three short answer questions. This setup fit the number of points I assigned the exam when I was making the syllabus. The other option would’ve been around twenty-five questions, which I thought were too many.

The questions were roughly ordered from easiest to hardest. The first question was “What is anthropology” and the last multiple choice question was a linguistic anthropology sentence diagramming question. To make the progressive difficulty, I thought about the number of mental leaps that one had to make to figure out the right answer from the question and the number of plausible answers. For an example of the former, the easier questions would define the term in the question to apply towards finding the right answer while harder question would require a leap to come up the definition on one’s own. As for the number of plausible answers, early on only two of the four answers are related to the question. A question about subsistence strategy would have the possible answers foraging and agriculture, but then archaeology and linguistics as well. For the harder questions, all four of the broad types of subsistence are in the answer pool.

When I picked up the printed exams, they were all official looking with a pink cover sheet covered in watermarks of the word “exam.” In class, I handed them out to the students, then I gave it to myself so I can take my own test and make the answer key. To my surprise, one of the students turned in the test before I was done! Seeing students take an exam from the perspective of the teacher’s desk showed me things that I had not considered before. A few students turned in the test fairly early on with some frustration in there faces, even after I gently nudged them to keep working at it. Everyone was done with around ten minutes to go. Instead of rounding up the students then, I let them have the whole duration as a break. It was a nice sunny day so most elected to chat outside.

Talking with the class about their impression of the exam, the consensus was that it was straightforward and fair. Good! With that out of the way, I started with the lecture on marriage and kinship practices.

As with the topic in the previous session, the students were very into learning about polygyny and polyandry. They worked really hard to understand how these marriages worked in the context of maintaining social ties and controlling one’s family’s resources. Just considering that marriages can be used as a tool instead of just for love was a lot to think about. Knowing that the students were interested in this topic, I brought a video clip of each of these types of plural marriage as well. Discussions during and after these clips were lively!

I also had one half hour video to show about marriage and kinship practices. Watching it on Youtube, I had the sneaking suspicion that I have seen it before. Perhaps when I was an undergraduate student in my first anthropology class?! I ran out of time during class, though. After the exam, I had just enough room for the lecture and the end-of-class question. I plan on showing the video next session as a bridge between the last session and the next, which os on gender. I will also return exams, of course. I also assigned two article to discuss, which I will play by ear. We’ll see if it works or not. If I’m feeling like the activity is not working, I plan to turn it into a lesson/demonstration of how to read journal articles using the macro projector. Always have a plan B!

Addendum: Between the last class session and now, I had a little adventure to get the exam graded. I’ve never used a Scantron machine (before), and I actually did not know what one looked like. I could not find any description of its location in the college website, so I figured that I would ask a peer when I popped in the adjunct offices for my office hours. Upon walking in the building, I saw a machine next to the communal printer that I had never noticed before. Taking off the dust cover, it turned out to be a DataLink 1200 test scanner! I guess it has been there the whole time. I googled the manual on my phone and I was off and running. It was neat to feed the exams through the thing and have it graded instantaneously. The scanner had a small screen showing some statistics on how people did on each question. I wish there was a way to have a copy of that information, but I didn’t see one with what I had on hand. In any case, I had the multiple choice graded in no time. The short answer took a little longer, which I did during my office hours. I followed the advice of reading all of the responses before deciding how to grade each one.

Addendum 2: It occurred to me that the college’s online descriptions of various office buildings mentioned them being “DataLink enabled.” I guess the information was there all along, but I did not know that was what the test grader was called!


One Response to “Cultural Anthropology Week 5: Test Crafting”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Look for a green/pink scantron like sheet (usually much larger than the test version) next to the machine – it has a special code on it that will tell the machine to print the correct/incorrect number of responses per question.

    Another option is to find a computer associated with the machine – there should be a program that gives you a report with the same information.

    These are the two ways the universities I teach at handle it – check with your Chair maybe to see which one your campus has. It is *really* handy when making tests to see which questions should be revised (or discussed) before the next semester (or class segment).

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