Monday, August 11, 2014

Start A&P 1 with a Comprehensive Exam. Really.

A while back, I recommended starting the second semester of A&P 2 with an exam. In that article, I stated that it's a good opportunity to get everyone started on the right track—and on the same track—before jumping right back into it.

If you think about it, even the first semester of A&P is "jumping back into it."  That is, if we assume that our students have had some learning in biology already.  Don't we want them to already know at least a little bit about:
  • basic chemistry (like what an atom is)
  • cell biology (at least what a cell is and perhaps a few organelles)
  • scientific terminology (like what roots, prefixes, and suffixes are)
  • genetics (what a gene is, what DNA stands for, basic inheritance)
  • metric system (at least the basics)
  • main organs of the body (like what a muscle or stomach is)
Then why not start them off with an open-book online or take-home exam covering these topics?  Or more topics?  Or fewer?

By starting off with a low-pressure "open" exam, we accomplish several goals:

  • Students learn how we will be testing them.  
    • They'll become comfortable with the formats we use for test items, how our LMS quizzes work, how to fill out an exam book (or scan sheet or test paper), our personal quirks in testing, the depth and breadth of our assessments, and more.

  • They review-refresh-solidify their prior learning.  
    • The "review exam" is a learning experience in and of itself, making sure that students fill in any gaps that may have occurred since they last encountered these concepts—even if they finished their last bio course only a few weeks ago.

  • Solves the "we don't have a prerequisite for A&P" problem.  
    • Well, it doesn't completely solve it.  But it does put quite a dent in it.

  • Allows students to work at their own pace to catch up.
    • Some students will breeze through their review.  Others will wonder how they missed (or forgot) all these concepts.  Still others have challenges in learning, reading, remembering, using English, and more.  This will help even out the playing field, at least at the start of the game.

  • You won't have to wonder what they've learned before reaching you.
    • The review will ensure that they know the concepts you want them to know before they begin.  And which terminology you'll using.

  • Saves you time in your course.
    • By not having to stop and review basic concepts when your students stumble, you have more class time for learning activities.

  • Students will have less of that oppressive, overwhelming feeling of stress a few weeks into A&P.
    • Many students, especially returning learners, feel like they are drowning because of the pace and sheer volume of information in their A&P course.  But a review exam can get a lot of that "you should already know this"— "I should perhaps, but I don't"—stress out of the way from the get-go.

  • Gives students confidence as they face their new challenges in your course.
    • This one cannot be overstated.  Much of our success in learning comes from how confident we are in our preparedness and our abilities.  A review exam can be a positive learning experience that establishes a good attitude for learning from the beginning. And it won't be false confidence—they really will know the foundational concepts they need for success in A&P!

Want to Know More?

Start A&P 2 with a Final Exam

  • Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor.   21 Jan 2013
  • My previous article on using the first exam in the second semester of A&P to review, refresh, and solidify concepts from A&P 1.

Teaching as Testing
  • Kevin Patton. The Electronic Professor 27 Feb 2009
  • Article outlining my use of randomized online testing as a mechanism of needed practice.  Includes links to a full video presentation.

Practice. Practice. Practice.
  • Kevin Patton. Lion Tamers Guide to Teaching 3 Dec 2010
  • Article on the role of practice in teaching and learning, using the analogy of taming lions.
Image credit: kelvinsong

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You talk about Reflections on the Comprehensive Exams. I have read your post very carefully. Thanks for this post. I am waiting for your next post about comprehensive exam questions

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