Student Success Strategy #4: Write Your Own Test

My students are master test-takers.  The curriculum for my class, Strategies for Success, includes studying the best ways to approach each type of question.

On true-false questions, they look for extremes, which are usually false.  On multiple choice, they know to eliminate the obviously wrong answers before considering those that might be correct.  And on matching, they know to ask whether the question is a one-to-one match, or whether some answers could be used again, or not at all.

Their best tool, however, is to write the test themselves.

After showing them how tests are constructed, I use class time to have them work in small groups to write several questions with answers on each chapter, some in each format.  As they are reading the material and discussing it, their brains are processing the information, not just memorizing it.

When they have their questions and answers written, we test their questions on the other groups to be sure all answers are correct.  They listen closely to be sure their group can claim the best written questions.

All questions are then handed in, and I choose from the student’s work, usually adding only a few of my own to the official test.

Student scores on these tests have increased by 30%.

Student Success Strategy #4:  Write your own test.  Instead of simply reading the material, look for points that can be formed into questions, develop the questions, and determine the best answers.  You have just become the teacher, and teaching is the most effective method of learning.

My students no longer read chapters without a focus on possible test questions.  They don’t find themselves reading a paragraph for the third time without knowing what it says.  They don’t pull an all-nighter to read and reread their material, yet they know it.  [I’m sure some still do, but they are better prepared than those who have trained their eyes to move across the page without seeing].

This technique works in any class, and I ask my students to try it for their next test or quiz to prove how well it works.  Whether they form study groups or work individually, I’ve seen grades improve and confidence build.

Student Success Strategy #3: Read the Syllabus

My phantom student came to my office today, walking there from a mile away  to ask for a chance to make up some work.  “I’ll do anything,” he said.  “Is it grim?”

“Yes, it is definitely grim.”

“Can I help you grade papers?  I’ll take all the quizzes right now.  What can I do so I don’t fail?  Really, I will do anything for you.”

[If only it were ethical to have him wash my car, clean my house, or do the lawn work!]

After reviewing the syllabus with him, he realized that without prior notice, he has no expectation of making up anything he missed.

“I came to talk to you in person, because I know I was not a good student this semester.  My grandfather died, then my cousin died, and I’ve been sick for weeks [I’ll spare you the graphic physiological details].  I also know that my actions were irresponsible and disrespectful to you, and I apologize for that.”

The apology/explanation/plea went on very eloquently for several minutes.  I looked at his grades.  At the beginning of the semester he was a top student.  Suddenly, everything changed.  He was either telling the truth (tears, full-body shaking, a definite loss of weight, even red eyes) or a sophisticated liar.

Student Success Strategy #3:  Read the syllabus so you know the requirements of the class and the consequences for not meeting those requirements.

My first class day is dedicated to stressing each part of the syllabus, and why it is so important to review it regularly.  Most student questions are answered in the syllabus.

I give a quiz on the content of the syllabus after a week to further stress the “contract” it contains.  Although due dates and details can change through the semester, the basic tenets remain the same.

What do you think is the right response?

Student Success Strategy #2: Let your professors know

I had a student hand in his final exam this afternoon with a question.  “Are you on campus tomorrow? Can I come talk to you?”

This student has missed the last few weeks of my class. I didn’t know whether he was sick or just skipping class, although my teaching assistant reported that he saw him at the gym and around campus.

I expect that he’ll ask for leniency on a grade, or the opportunity to take an incomplete.

My syllabus clearly states that if you have a problem attending class, let me know before any missed time when possible.  If you do that, I’m very willing to work with you to meet the class requirements with minimum penalties and maximum flexibility.  If you don’t, there is no expectation that you can make up any work.

Right now this young man has an F in a Strategies for Success class. Ironic, sad and completely preventable.

Student Success Strategy #2:  Let your professors know if you must miss class.

Even if you are skipping class, I’d like to know that you understand the importance of attending.  If you use a fake excuse (once), I’d rather be fooled to show that I will listen to you when you really need to talk.

I will put in the effort to help you succeed, but it is up to you to show that you want to learn.  Even in large classes, an email will show the professor that you care.

It’s not just a matter of courtesy, but a sign of respect for the class, your fellow students, and the professor.  A simple email might be the difference between failure and a chance to recover the grade you need.

Student Success Strategy #1: Ask Yourself a Question

I used to write my papers the night before they were due.  As a fast typist, I could get a lot written in a short time.  I used to say that it took until the night before so my brain would process all the information I had gathered, organize it into coherent thoughts, and then give me the motivation to sit down and put it on paper.

It worked.  I really only thought about the paper for one night, then finishing it quickly allowed me to stop thinking about it, so the pressure was off.  Success.

But I didn’t learn anything.  As soon as I completed that paper and stopped thinking about it, the information was no longer in my head.  If I had been asked to discuss the paper a week later, I could barely remember the topic.

Student Success Strategy #1:  Develop a question instead of a topic.  What about the topic is interesting to you?  Is there a solution you should find or create?  What will happen in the future?

Instead of “Prisoners of War” you could ask “Do prisoners of war need more or less treatment than other military members for post-traumatic stress?”

Instead of “U.S. Economy” you could ask “What happens to small businesses during a recession?”

Instead of “Dysfunctional Families” you could ask “How do different cultures define dysfunctional families?”

What do you want to learn?  Even in a class you are required to take outside your major, you should be able to find a topic that will help you think in a way that matches your interests.