The final exam was held during classtime this week. It was a tiring ordeal for me; the exams which I had planned to be 15 minutes long ended up lasting anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes each. For 115 students or 57 ["teams"] (one "threesome"), this meant about 10 hours of overtime and no breaks all week. Finally, it's over, and here is the report on both the content of the exam as well as my reflections on this attempt to make a cheat-proof, instructive assessment.
According to the [final exam outline], there were supposed to be five separate parts of the exam. Because of time constraints, I eliminated the conversation portion, the rationale being that guiding the students through the various other parts of the exam would require conversation-like skills. This worked well. The remain four parts then were (in the order that they were administered during the exam): grammar, listening, pronunciation, and the role play.
The grammar part of the exam tied together the students' writing and grammar corrections completed previously in class. In week 12 immediately following the class trip to Guilin, the students were given an assignment to write about their trip (MMIVSpringWeekTwelve). By week 17, I had prepared a list of sentences containing key mistakes for each of the classes; the students' homework assignment was to correct a part of the list with a friend using Microsoft Word as a language tool and mutual proofreading to further reduce mistakes. This was variously successful; I found that some students only used the spelling and grammar checking features of Word without bothering to make any corrections by hand, and this was extremely frustrating as the homework took a long time to correct. Other students did an adequate job of finding mistakes and exhibiting their knowledge of the flexibility of English to correct them. Finally, in week 19 immediately after this assignment was due, I posted the correct answers online and notified the students that they were to study these corrections in preparation for the final exam (MMIVSpringWeekNineteen).
For the exam, I selected two sets from each correction list, one of easier sentences, one of more difficult ones; I ignore sentences in which corrections were either too trivial or too complicated for a test-taking situation. Both sets were highlighted in different colored marker. For the exam, each team was required to correct one easy sentence and one difficult sentence. I liked the flexibility this gave me to choose sentences I felt appropriate to the students; as well, the pseudo-randomness of my selection would have made it difficult to cheat. Some students had obviously studied and quickly provided correct responses. Others mulled over the sentences with their partners and needed me to prompt them before giving their answers. In this case, I saw the nascent birth of partner learning in the classroom. Their lack of preparation was obvious, and they tried to make up for it.
The listening portion of the exam was my own creation. I wanted to provide an alternative view to language learning, wrote my own little piece about it, and recorded it. I learned some things about my own voice from listening to the recording over 50 times, let me tell you! An interesting linguistic oddity was my clipping of the "d" in the word "and" in at least one situation, which I imagine is a byproduct of my exposure to Taiwan-influenced Mandarin throughout my childhood. Anyway, here is the /ExamTapescript.
There were three versions of the listening question sheet, which I passed to students randomly to discourage cheating. The questions differed only slightly for fairness. Here are the /ListeningTests. Because of the relatively large number of True/False questions on the exam, I was concerned that results might be skewed simply by the likelihood of guessing many of the answers correctly. While this may have affected some individual scores, I don't think it was a big problem. Here are the average listening scores for reference; they exhibit the expected pattern (Class A is the most advanced, Class C the least):
|Class A||Class B||Class C|
The listening test ran about 4'30". This, combined with the time I allowed students to preview the questions (about half a minute) and verify their answers with one another, easily made it the longest part of the exam.
I came up with a list of vocabulary that students encountered in classroom lectures and lessons, listening exercises, and on EnglishWiki. For the first part of the pronunciation section, I had students first pronounce, then count the number of syllables in groups of four words. I chose the group randomly for each team. For the second part of the pronunciation section, I had students simply read two sentences which represented a snippet of a conversation. I instructed them to pay particular attention to their pronunciation and intonation (or "feeling" as I felt was the most accessible way to express it) for this part. Here are the /WordList and the /PronunciationDialogs.
The /PronunciationDialogs went hand in hand with the role play tasks; there is a corresponding dialogue for each of the /RolePlaySituations. I hoped that this would prime the students subconsciously for the last section.
The /RolePlaySituations were drawn from topics we have talked about this semester. After I explained the scenario, students had 1-2 minutes to think about and prepare their skits. When grading I considered fluency, grammar, usage of more sophisticated sentence structure (not "I like this", "I like that"), substance, and fulfillment of the situational requirements.
Poor fluency resulted from students' unwillingness to practice speaking English with each other outside of the classroom. I was prepared to give low grades for this because I had explicitly instructed students to take advantage of extracurricular English speaking opportunities countless times, and had also indicated preparation for the exam should be done in pairs, not alone. Poor grammar which affected intelligiblity also negatively impacted grades. I was on the watch for overuse of simple sentence structures, which would indicate that a student did not make real progress in speaking ability this semester. Of course, adherence to the topic provided and thorough exploration of it was also a requirement.
Coming soon ...