| Home  |  Academics  | 


Teaching and Learning Center | Teaching Tips | Student Assessment/Cheating

Student Assessment / Cheating

Tips marked with an * indicates that the tip is consistent with learning teaching



*Test Administration

1. Write explicit directions for a test. If possible distribute these in advance of the test administration, especially if there is anything different about the directions.

The directions should include:

  • How much time is available, will extra time be allowed
  • What to do if finish early
  • How to record answers
  • Whether to show work on problems
  • Weight of different sections, items
  • Whether there is a penalty for guessing
  • What can be used during the test, e.g., calculators, crib sheet
  • If test booklet will be collected, etc
  • Directions on how to use the answer sheet if at all different from the usual way

2. State your cheating policy on the test or the directions and enforce it.

3. Remember it is easier to prevent cheating than to deal with the consequences later.

back to top

Preventing Cheating

Cheating seems to be a big problem on this campus (and everywhere). Here are a few tips to minimize cheating.

  1. Make up multiple versions of the same exam - scramble the order of the questions and the order of the alternatives in multiple choice items. Some departmental secretaries are very good at this and should be contacted for help.
  2. Do not color code your exams because it is too easy to see who has the same version
  3. Assign students to seats - separate friends, suspected cheating rings, etc.
  4. Proctor the exam very actively
  5. If necessary, get an additional person to proctor with you and the graduate students, if some were assigned to proctor.
  6. Students wearing baseball caps must be taken off or turned backwards, no one can wear sun glasses - so that wondering eyes can be spotted more easily.

We need to check to see if this idea could work here - have 2 versions of the answer sheet - one that lists the numbers vertically and one that lists the answers horizontally. If anyone knows if we can get these 2 different formats and if our machines can read them, please pass it along to others.

back to top

Suggested Standard for Academic Integrity

Michele Mulhall passed this suggested standard on to me. She thinks that Bill Inverso drafted it. Although it is written for PT's, it can easily be applied to all majors and professions:

*Academic Integrity: Physical therapy students are expected to demonstrate behaviors that are compatible with those of their chosen career as well as those of any civilized community. To that end, the highest standards of academic integrity are expected. Therefore,

Assigned work is to be completed by the individual student or, when appropriate, by an identified/organized group of students.

Theft, cheating, assisting another student to cheat, and plagiarism are considered behaviors that are inconsistent with academic integrity.

Evidence of behaviors that are inconsistent with academic integrity will be considered appropriate ground for the Department of Physical Therapy to recommend formal disciplinary action to the Committee on Student Discipline that may include expulsion from the University.

back to top

Preventing Plagiarism

John Harwood, the Director of Computer Information Systems at Penn State provided these tips on preventing plagiarism. Ask your students to provide copies of their references, rough drafts, etc. You may use them to check for plagiarism, but more likely it may prevent a few cases from occurring. When the students hand in a big paper ask them to write in class a summary of their search strategies, or how they validated their ideas, or have them write a short summary of one citation, etc. Any of these type of assignments will be a quick check that they did the work. If you rotate these assignments and word gets out that you ask for this type of documentation in class, you may prevent future students from plagiarizing in your class.

back to top

Insuring the students did the work on out of class papers and projects

With term papers so available to purchase or content so easy to download from the web, it is more important to insure that our students actually did the work they are claiming they did. Here are a few suggestions to be sure the students did the work and actually learned something from the paper or project:

  1. ask the students to hand in the key parts that they used from all of their references along with the paper
  2. ask the students to write briefly on their paper in class once you have collected the papers. You could ask them to restate their main argument, state the most important thing they learned from the paper, restate their conclusion or describe a controversy or inconsistence they noticed in the literature, etc. This should be a 5-10 minute exercise.
  3. The library has a trial subscription to Turnitin.com for the rest of this semester. They are seeking feedback on it to see if they want to continue subscribing. Check some papers out this way.


back to top

Explaining your grading system on the first day of class

Once you get your evaluations of your students, share the evaluations with a trusted colleague. Your colleague will help you see the balance among the comments, help you gain a different perspective and probably give you praise for the things you did well. Together formulate a plan for improvement.

back to top


Letting students know how they are doing in the class throughout the semester

As you plan your courses, make sure you schedule some assessments early enough in the semester and that you get the assessments graded and returned before mid-way through the semester. Students should not go through a course without having a clue as to how well they are doing. For example, without getting feedback on a written paper in a writing intensive course, students might think that they are getting an A in the course, but end up getting a C or lower because they also had no idea of how well they were meeting your expectations.

back to top

Helping students to realize that they earn their grades

Just prior to when you are about to go over your grading scheme for your courses, ask your students to note what grade they expect or hope to make in this course. Then tell them what you expect that they will do to earn an A,B,C. etc. This is especially important if you have different work or additional work to earn a higher grade. Some students think that doing all the assignments earns them an A. You might talk about the quality of assignments or writing expected and how if an A paper exceeds the quality of a B paper. If you allow students to redo an assignment but then can only earn a grade less than full credit on the second try, make sure you tell them that point.

Andrew Peterson suggested this tip.

back to top

Checking to see that your students did work they handed in for group projects, term papers, etc.

To insure that your students did their work that they handed in with their names on it for group projects or term papers, ask a question on the final exam that relates to their projects or papers. For example, you might ask them to relate what they learned from the project/paper to a theme or major topic of the course. You could ask them to site either the author or approximate title or sites of 2 resources they consulted to work on the paper. Why were these resources so helpful for the project or paper? This type of questions can be worth 5-10 points on the final, so it should not take to much time.

back to top

Showing concern for students might reduce the amount of cheating in your course

When you express concern or show you care about your students, the incidence of cheating in your classroom may go down. Cheating tends to occur more in impersonal classes where students think the professor does not care about them.

back to top

Getting students to self-assess on their preparation and performance on tests

Students often lack insight into their own preparation and performance on tests. They usually don't think about their own preparation or performance and blame the instructor before reflecting on their own efforts. To help students more accurately assess their preparation and performance, ask them to reflect with questions like these:

  • Did you study the right material?
  • Did you put the right emphasis on your studying on
    • concepts or the big picture
    • Material in the reading, but not covered in class
  • What could you do differently/or how can you prepare for the next test better?
    • Would studying in groups be effective?
    • If so, what type of students should I meet with?
    • What type of group study is effective?
  • Did you begin studying early enough to master the material?
  • How well did you know the material?
  • Where were there gaps in your understanding?

back to top

Planning weights for assignments when students have choices

If you are allowing students to choose among different assignments, you often run into the concern that all assignments are not equal in difficulty or time required. To make them worth the same you have a few options:

  • You can bundle several smaller assignments together to be worth the same as the larger assignment
  • Say if you are choosing the most difficult assignment, usually an authentic assessment similar to what practitioners in the field actually do or one that requires the most critical thinking, you can allow them to skip another assignment that you specify
  • You can require the most difficult assignment only if the student wants to get an A in the course
  • You can also create a contract of choices of assignments in which certain assignments can be done to earn a C, others can be done to earn a B and either a combination of many assignments or requiring the hardest assignment to earn an A grade.

back to top

Helping students complete analytic or creative assignments successfully

Many of our students are good memorizers or try to say what they think their instructor will like. Therefore, they may not get the purpose of analytic or creative assignments. Instead of developing a good argument or putting their own interpretation on material, they give back what they heard from the professor and are surprised when they do not receive a good grade. Instructors can help students understand the requirements in these types of assignments by explicitly saying that they are looking for the students' own thoughts. Tell the students that they will not be graded poorly if they have an interpretation that is different from the professors as long as they develop a good argument, provide evidence and are logical.

back to top

Gathering formative, peer assessments for small group work

Well before the end of the semester, preferably even two times during the semester, it is a good idea for students to assess each other when they are working together in small groups. These peer assessments can be formative and not count toward the group participation grade, or they can count a small amount. The most important issue is that students get feedback so that they can improve before it is too late. Some of the aspect that peers can assess each other on include:

    • Group attendance, punctuality
    • Dependability, did what was asked of them
    • Did a fair share of work or what was agreed upon
    • Cooperation, communicate, sharing, listening to others
    • Role in creating or resolving interpersonal problems
    • Cognitive contributions using knowledge and skills to help the group achieve its goals
    • Monitoring group progress
    • Special roles or contributions made

At the end of the semester, peers can assess each other on similar aspects. You might want to design this form so that students cannot give all of their peers the same score.

The list of aspects that is appropriate for self-assessment comes from Baker, DF. (2008) Peer Assessment in small groups. J of Management Education, 32(2), 183-209

back to top

Helping students to learn and improve from feedback on their work

If you are going to assign a major paper, project, or other out of class work that will count a large percentage of the grade, you might consider allowing students to hand in a pen-ultimate draft several weeks before the assignment is due. This might be the entire project, a small part of the entire paper (you might specify which part, such as what most students have the most trouble with), or an outline, or graphic of their organization and thinking, and the references they used. If students take advantage of this opportunity, they will have put thought into the paper well in advance of the deadline. If you get these papers, spend time giving these students as much feedback as possible. They are probably motivated to learn and to do a good job. Keep a copy of what you wrote for yourself. Then when you get their final papers, you can easily compare your comments to see if they made the suggested changes. The final grading for these appears should take less time.

You can ask the students to hand in these projects electronically and you can make comments using the comments features.

While this may ease some of your grading burden at the end of the semester, it may cause you to spend additional time reviewing papers earlier. If you are assigning projects like this in all of your courses, you might want to spread out the due dates for these drafts as much as you can.

back to top

Using online assignments effectively

A few weeks ago the topic of the TableTalks was online assignments. Elisabeth Morlino and Cathy Poon led these discussions. Here are a few tips I culled from these discussions.

    • If you give specific amount of time per questions, and then take away the question, this increases student's stress. A better method is to give students full credit if they complete the question correctly in the right amount of time, and partial credit if they take longer. This can also work for clickers in class if you do not give the correct answer after closing the polling.
    • With online questions, students may be allowed to keep selecting an answer until they get it right. This is a good method for review or study, but not for summative assessment. Students can get full credit for the first answer if it is correct and partial credit if they select > 1 alternative before they get it right.
    • You can allow students to complete online assignments more than one time. For example, they might take it first as a required homework assignment, and then again to review for a test. If you allow students to re-take the same assignment, you might have the computer select different questions for a larger pool, or you can change the numbers in the problems.
    • When you are developing online assignments, also develop ways for the students to get immediate or delayed feedback online. In addition to the correct answer you can explain why other alternatives are not correct, explain your reasoning or give a reference for further reading.
    • You can set a standard such as 70% correct for an on line assignment, students can attempt the questions a few times (specific number set by the instructor). After these attempts and if students have not obtained the standard, you might suggest that they see the instructor for help.

back to top

Clarifying what we mean by student self-assessment

A study (Andrade and Du, 2007) reported on interviews of students to self-assessments. Students felt that their ability to self-assess depended on them knowing what their teacher expected. They were trying to out guess what the teacher wanted to them to do and gave the teacher what they thought the teacher wanted to read. Students did not engage in a different kind of self-assessment. Many rejected the value of this type of assessment. The results helped clarify for me distinctions we need to make to our students about self-assessments:

  1. We must emphasize the value of these self-assessments in terms of careers and professional behaviors.
  2. We need to ask directed questions so that students know what to do. We might ask students to state how they checked or revised their work. We can ask about how much effort they put into to it or how they could do it differently or better if they could. What did they learn from it? What do they see as the strengths and weaknesses of their product?
  3. We need to make it clear that self-assessment is not guessing what the teacher wants and writing it.
  4. There is a difference between self-assessment and self-grading.

Andrade and Du (2007) Student responses to criteria-referenced self-assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32 (2), 159-181.

back to top

Helping students to prepare for exams by telling them what categories you are testing

Exams should be blueprinted or planned. This plan will specify the key concepts that you will test on and the proportion of each key concept to the total exam. The test plan should also remind the teacher what level of students this is being prepared for, the duration of the exam, and any additional materials to provide the students (such as formulas).

If you are giving a high stakes exam, it is in the best interests of learning that you let students know of this plan in advance. This knowledge deduces student anxiety and helps them focus on what is really important. Giving students this information is not the same as telling them what is on the test.

Much of this comes from Linda Robinson, our local testing expert.

back to top

Increasing student satisfaction and interest without changing your course

The following tip comes from a well designed research study using control groups and experimental groups, replicated a two school and led to significant differences in student satisfaction and interest in the discipline. The study was conducted by Dobrow, Smith and Posner and reported on at the Lilly conference in College Park in June 2010.

If you use multiple forms of assessment, such as group and individual assignments, class participation, writing assignments and presentations, students have different preferences for these types of assignments, or feel that they do better on one type over another. By allowing students to determine how much weight any one assignment can count for them individually (within a range), you can use these perceptions to help the students to be more satisfied with your course and increase interest in the discipline.

  1. Explain why you are allowing students to determine how much an assignment counts such as helping you to succeed in the course, working with your learning preferences, etc.
  2. Give students the possible percent range that an assignment can count on a few assignments requiring different types of skills (such as writing or speaking). Give a default weight as a guide.
  3. Then ask students to select their own allocation within the range for these assignments. Their allocation must equal 100%. This should be done early in course and in writing/or electronically.
  4. Students who do not select their own weights, the default weight applies.

back to top

Giving a consistent message about the importance of collaboration

One of the most important skills that employers look for is the ability of employees to work together. We often implement collaborative projects for our students. Yet in other ways we are inconsistent. If we grade on a curve especially for the final course grade, we are sending the message that only some people need to fail. It is hard to get students to work together and help each other if they are graded on a competitive grading scale.

Karl Smith, the distinguished professor of engineering education and leader of pedagogies of engagement workshops worldwide gave me this thought.

back to top

Giving a hard exam to advanced students

This tip can work for advanced courses or even or qualifying examinations for graduate degrees. Give the students a large set of hard questions in advance of the in-class exam. These questions might require reviewing the literature, comparing and contrasting perspectives, critical evaluation of a document or artifact, etc. Tell the students they can work together to research the material or discuss their ideas in advance of the test. Then give them selected questions from those they prepared to write their answers individually in class.

You should expect a better quality answer.

back to top

Some thoughts about allowing students access to old exams

The last two TableTalks focused on allowing students access to old exams. These ideas come from the discussions among Adeboye Adejare, Anil D'Mello, Linda Robinson, Joan Tarloff and Gil Zink and otehrs.

  1. Difference solutions may be appropriate for different classes depending on the size of the class, the level, the content, etc.
  2. Joan posts old exams without posting the answer sheets.
  3. Faculty have not noticed a change, or an impovement in grades if old exams are available
  4. Gill collects the students answer sheets and then while the students still have the questions in the same testing period, he conducts a discussion on the questions and answers.
  5. If the content allows limited number of possibilities for altering the alternatives, past exams may help students to do better without actually knowing the material better. If there are unlimited possibilities in the way questions can be asked, having old exams may help students to learn the material and think about how questions are asked.
  6. Linda suggest that instead of giving back exams, allow students to come in to talk about their answers during office hours, but the students cannot take notes. About 50% of the students take advantage of this opportunity. This might only work with smaller classes.

back to top

Helping students to benefit from feedback on drafts

Students often benefit from handing drafts in to their professors before the final paper is due. For one thing it gets the students involved with the project earlier. Faculty should offer feedback on the draft, however it should not be the same as grading the paper. In the early stages of writing, writers should be more concerned with getting their ideas developed than on the fine tuning of the prose. Therefore, faculty might require outlines, concept maps, or other ways to get the students to focus on their ideas and not on the prose. The feedback faculty give on early drafts should focus on analysis of the problem, organization and big picture issues. Faculty can require students to write a few sample paragraphs to be included in the paper at a slightly later time. These samples can indicate if the student has trouble with grammer, sentence structure, mechanics or the proper writing style for the discipline and faculty can offer suggestions for improvement with the sample. Personally I have the most trouble writing the introduction, so that might be a good draft to hand in to get feedback on. Some faculty require students to attach the drafts to the final copy that way faculty can be reminded what they already told the student and see if they made the recommended changes.

back to top

Helping students to learn from test results

Students are very motivated to know how they did after they take a test or hand in an assignment. This is a teachable moment. You can help students to analyze how they did to improve their future performance. If you give students where the answer to each question can be found (i.e. in class discussion, lectures, student presentation, reading, etc.), ask them to calculate what percentage of questions they missed in each category as a reminder to focus their future efforts on areas where they lost the most points. Ask the students to reflect on the strategies they used to study for the exam and the amount of time they spent. Describe changes in strategies that might occur as a result of these analysis. Ask students to set a specific and concrete goal for their preparation for the next exam. If students do a good job on these evaluation, you could give them an extra point or two on their exams.

Some faculty return papers with comments and feedback and not a final grade. After students reflect on their performance and respond to you, you can give them their final grades.

Do not assume that students will see the value of these activities. Instead introduce this activity with a discussion of how these analysis can improve their performance on future assessments in this and other courses.

These ideas come from Barkley (2009), Student Engagement Techniques. Jossey-Bass, which you can borrow from the Teaching and Learning Center.

back to top

Planning better exams and using item analysis to complete this planning cycle


As the semester ends, many faculty develop final examinations. Your course objectives should direct what you will assess, the emphasis you will put on the content, and the type of questions you write. Final examinations are the time to determine if students mastered the big picture of the discipline you were teaching. Develop a test plan before you develop the questions. The plan should specify the behaviors, knowledge or skills to be assessed, their relative weight or emphasis and the type questions for each domain. If possible share this plan with the students well in advance of the test. After the test has been graded, look carefully at the item analysis (either generated by the computer if they are multiple choice questions, or one you create for essay or short answer questions). The item analysis will answer from the item analysis for the next time you teach this course.

I am sharing Linda Robinson's ideas here.

back to top

Reframing assignments

In this age of easy access to information, student papers and projects should emphasize information acquisition less and using the knowledge more. If students can goggle your assignment and find the answer, you may not be asking the right questions. Students may interpret these kind of assignments as asking me to reinvent the wheel and their lackluster attempt may convey their boredom. Ask students to compare and contrast ideas, criticize or use theories in a real situation.

back to top


Building in time in the sc






Student Assessment and Feedback

Planning Constructing Assessments

*Planning student evaluation that promote a variety of skills

If you want your students to develop a variety of skills, including the ability to reflect on their own learning and improve on previous performance, you might consider asking your students to prepare a course portfolio. They should include a variety of different samples of their work especially showing different skills developed during the course and not just content learned. For some of their work, they should include the original paper or report they wrote and a revised copy done recently. Part of the portfolio might be asking the students to take a look of the whole picture of the course, write how well did they meet the course objectives, and reflect on how this course will apply or be used later. If you plan on such a portfolio, the whole course needs to be planned with this in mind. It should also count a significant amount of their final grade.

back to top

Making up exams

Blueprint your exam before developing questions:

  1. What are the major topics you want to cover, what percentage or weight for each topic
  2. What proportion of the exam do you want to be factual, application, and problem solving/critical thinking

Fit these 2 criteria together into a matrix-now you have an exam blueprint to start making the questions.

As you develop the questions, mark the weight of the item on the exam> Be very explicit in your directions. Think of all of the bad experiences you had in the past in taking an exam yourself, or as an instructor - deal with how you will handle it - e.g. what is cheating, lateness, extra time, unclear writing, etc. These may be distributed in advance to get the students more prepared.

back to top

Constructing multiple choice tests

  • Here are a few pointers for constructing multiple choice tests:
  • Estimate 1-3 minutes for students to answer each question
  • Address one problem or concept per question
  • Avoid questions with multiple correct answers, as they are confusing
  • Phrase items with clarity and internal consistency
  • The item stem should be a direct positive statement expressing a complete thought
  • Response alternatives or options should be similarly structured
  • Avoid wordiness
  • Minimize the use of "all of the above"
  • Avoid using "none of the above" as students can argue an answer you never thought about
  • Make sure there is one correct answer
  • Make alternatives equally plausible and attractive. Absurd options only make guessing easier
  • Present 4-5 alternatives in some logical order or alphabetize them
  • Avoid grammatical cues to correct answers

back to top

*Showing Students that exam was connected to course material

If you give an essay or non-multiple choice exam that requires students to go beyond what they learned or went over in class, you might consider doing a post-mordem on the exam to show students how they need to apply what they were responsible for in all parts of the course or previous courses. You might ask students to identify where they learned something that was useful to answer a particular question. This might teach some students that they need to read the assigned materials more carefully or listen to class discussions.

Dennis Jacobs, our visiting scholar from the faculty enrichment workshop this past week suggested this tip.

back to top

*Returning student's work after the school year

Do you get frustrated when you have spent time correcting a final exam or paper only to find that many of your students never picked it up? This is a common occurrence. Some students check out of the class as soon as they finish the last requirement, others only want to see their grade. However, there are a good number of students who want to learn from this last paper or exam. These are the students that we need to be directing our feedback attention to. When students hand in their last paper or exam, ask them to indicate if they want feedback on this work. If they want to see how and why you graded it the way you did, ask them to indicate a email address or home address that you can send their work to. These papers can be separate from the exams if they are done without names. If you only have to give feedback to some of the students, provided you have them identify themselves on their work itself, it might save you some time in your correcting.

back to top

*Making your time to grade papers more efficient and helping the students learn more

Research shows that students read and attend to feedback when it is given on drafts of papers far more than on the final copy. This is especially true at the end of a semester. Therefore, if your students are handing in papers for which you have not seen earlier drafts, do not spend a lot of time writing out comments and feedback to them.

You could grade them globally, by determining criteria or a rubric for an A,B,C,D or F papers. Then read them quickly to see if your criteria make sense. Read them again, without a pen in hand and sort them into grade piles. Do a final random check of a few from each pile. Without writing comments, you will cut your time for grading. Then attach the same copy of your criteria to the papers as your feedback to them. If you can, hand out your criteria to the students in advance and ask them to self-assess.

Next semester ask the students to hand in parts of the paper, or steps-such as the problem or thesis statement, key resources consulted, etc. or drafts in advance. Your final papers will be a higher quality.

back to top

*Build in Self Assessments as you are planning your course

Plan ways to foster students' self assessment throughout your courses. For example:

  1. Encourage your students to use the same criteria you use to check over their assignments.
  2. Give non-graded quizzes for the purpose of self-assessment (the instructor's manual will be good for questions).
  3. Ask students to assess how well they did on a test or paper before handing it back.
  4. By getting students invested in their own assessment process, they will gain professionally appropriate skills and become more engaged in their learning.

back to top

*Making Exams a Learning Experience

Use the old adage, "we learn from our mistakes" to help students to learn through exams. On essay or calculation types of exams, grade the exams, return them without going over the answers, and then allow the students a few days to redo their answers. The students should write their rationale for their new answer and the source if they looked something up. The students will be very motivated to get the correct answer now. You may assign up to 50% of the points missed for the students' work after the exam. Do not allow students to copy for each other, so for calculations you need more than just the final answer, but need to show the process used and the work.

back to top

*Helping your students to get over their anxiety over exams

You can reduce student anxiety on exams and increase their productive studying by giving the students your grading criteria in advance. If you use a grading checklist or a rubric, give these sheets to the students a few days or weeks in advance of the test. Spend a little time in class going over your criteria, what they mean and why they are important. If you are giving a multiple choice exam, you could tell them about your exam blueprint - or about how many questions will come from each topic, or how many are factual and how many are problem solving. This suggestion comes to us from Alan Wright from his presentation on assessing students in learner-centered environments.

back to top

Gaining useful feedback from your students at mid-semester

Tom Angelo, the author of the well read book on classroom assessment techniques makes the following recommendations for gathering mid-semester feedback. Try it alone with the students in charge of the process, pair with a colleague and do it for each other, or you may request that I help you do it.

One long-used, useful approach to getting meaningful, useful mid-course feedback is called Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID), or the "GIFT," for Group Informal Feedback on Teaching. Ask the students to do the following:


Directions: Please write brief, honest -- and legible -- answers to the questions below.
(Do not write your name on this paper.)

  1. What are 1 or 2 specific things your instructor does that help you learn in this course?
  2. What are 1 or 2 specific thing your instructor does that hinder or interfere with your learning?
  3. Please give your instructor 1 or 2 specific, practical suggestions on ways to help you improve your learning in this course.

If you want more information about getting feedback, here are some further suggestions from Tom Angelo


Suggestions for Faculty

  1. Don't ask if you don't want to know.
  2. Don't collect feedback if you don't have time to respond to it.
  3. Do this early enough in the semester to allow time for changes.
  4. Do pay attention to positive as well as critical feedback.
  5. Do think through your response to the feedback carefully.
  6. Do respond honestly and promptly to the students' feedback.
  7. Do follow-up to see if your response makes any difference.

How to Gather Informal Feedback on Teaching

Arrange to work with a faculty colleague or faculty development specialist whom you trust. When working with another faculty member, it's usually a good idea to agree to trade visits. Schedule a date and time to visit each other's classes to collect feedback. Set aside at least 15 minutes of class time for this exercise. Let your students know what is going to happen, when, and why. Stress the value of honest, constructive feedback for improvement.

Before you visit the class: Schedule two meetings with your partner. Plan to meet for at least 15-20 minutes soon before and 45-60 minutes soon after the date of your classroom visit to go over the procedure.

When you visit the class: Your partner should introduce you to his or her class, and then leave. Remind students of what you are doing and why -- that is, gathering information to help their professor improve learning -- and assure them that their responses will remain anonymous. Let them know that you will summarize their responses and discuss them with their teacher. Review this procedure. Give students 10 minutes or so to respond then collect the responses. Thank them and let them know when, more or less, they can expect to discuss the results.

After you visit the class: Read through the responses, looking for broad categories. Group similar responses together and list them, verbatim, under descriptive heading. If possible, type up a summary of the responses to give to your partner.

When you meet withy your partner: Start by discussing the responses to the question on what interferes with or hinders learning. Then, discuss student responses to what helps them learn. Third, talk about the students' suggestions for improving teaching and learning. Before you end, make sure your partner has a plan for responding to the class.

back to top

Ways to improve peer assessment

Faculty often feel the qualify of student peer assessment is not very good. However, if we ask more directed questions we often get better quality feedback. Here are some specific questions to ask students to answer when they are giving peer feedback:

  • What do you think is the thesis of the paper/presentations?
  • List the main points of the paper/presentation
  • What are the writer's/speaker's strongest and weakest points?
  • Indicate any passages that you had to read more than once to understand what was being said.
  • Indicate the most effective sentences
  • What do you find most compelling about the paper/presentation?

Notice most are not related to whether or not they liked the paper, nor to assign a grade. These are formative feedback for improvement or to show how well the writer got a point across. These ideas come from Linda Nilson of Clemson University.

back to top

*Creating an effective comprehensive final exam or capstone assessment for your courses

To create an effective exam or assessment task ask yourself the following questions prior to developing the questions:

  1. What declarative knowledge (the facts and concepts of a discipline) do I expect the students to be able to use?
  2. What procedural knowledge (allows us to do something in a discipline) do I expect the students to be able to use?
  3. What discipline-specific reasoning strategies do I expect the students to use?
  4. What real-life and ill-defined problems should the students be able to address?
  5. Will the assessment:
    • be valid?
    • provoke student interest?
    • simulate problems they will have to use later?
    • provoke student-learning and at the same time can evaluate the students?
    • allow students to reveal their uniqueness as learners, show own construction of knowledge?
    • allow an opportunity to provide feedback to the student to lead to improvement?

These questions come from Huba, ME & Freed, JE. Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses. Needham Heights, MASS: Allyn & Backon, 2000

back to top

Helping students to do better on exams

Students do better on exams if they are not anxious and if they feel more confident about the material and their ability to succeed in this course. Here are some suggestions on how to achieve the above:

  1. If you nest the exam in a series of learning-(self) assessment exercises they can learn more and to better.
  2. You might also allow students to prepare study aids and crib sheets for the exam and then hand them in with the exam
  3. During the test, you can allow students to make up 1 question on material they knew but did not feel was adequately and answer it.

These suggestions were part of the workshops given by Maryellen Weimer and Marilla Svinicki.

*Making returning exams a learning experience for the students

When you return exams, especially multiple choice or short answer, don't go over the answers yourself. Once you return the graded exam to the students ask the students to work in small groups to go over the answers. Ask the students to go over the content with each other and the rationale for why they selected the answer they did. If they got it right they will be happy to share with others. If none of them got it right they might be able to determine the right answer by a process of elimination. They can ask you questions during these small group discussions. This might make the session a little less stressful for you.

back to top

*Managing Large Classes

Here is a tip from a colleague who teaches classes of 300. It involves how to take attendance and gather formative feedback at the same time. He gives 12 quizzes a semester. The question is usually directly from the reading or from the classroom discussion that particular day. The students do not know if the quiz will occur at the end or at the beginning of the class. There are no makeup's. Each quiz is usually one question with a very short phrase as the answer. I give the students a 0 for missing, a 1 for taking the quiz, and a 2 for getting it correct. What does this accomplish?

This system gets an attendance record by the end of the semester.

  • Students come on time and tend to stay for the entire class (major problem in very large classes).
  • Student do the reading on time are rewarded for their effort.
  • When students come to the instructor at the end of the semester with their "stories" he has an indicator of their semester long effort.
  • Keys to the questions: the answers must be short and gradable within a 15 second frame (that way they can be graded and recorded in less than one hour and a half. This is critical for large class teachers who have so many other time consuming activities regarding their large numbers.
  • Some faculty have used this technique with scan sheets and reuse the scan sheets many times. Obviously that takes some of the recording time off the faculty member.
  • Tell the students the answer immediately after the quiz. They get their actual quiz grade when it is handed back during one of the regular tests given during one of the regular tests given during the semester. On their answer sheet they would see 1,1,2,2 or something like that so they can keep track of their scores. The quizzes are added into their final grade.
  • Finally, the quiz scores correlate with their final grades. Quiz grades are the best predictor of their grade when compared to SAT scores, high schools grades, and other predictors. This allow instructors to tell the students that if they are not doing well on the quizzes they need to re-evaluate how they are preparing for the class.

Thanks to Joseph Marolla from Virginia Commonwealth University.

back to top

*Giving students as many opportunities for on-going formative feedback

Research shows that multiple and varied opportunities for on-going formative feedback significantly increases student learning. Try to think of as many ways the students can get on-going feedback on their mastery of the material as possible. Classroom assessment techniques (like a quick quiz at the end of class asking for the main point from the class or a few multiple choice questions) area very successful ways to give students feedback on how well they are doing. Using the materials developed by the textbook publishers can be a great way to get students to self-assess without a great deal of class time or your energy. Requiring students to do on-line quizzes provided by the publishers and the results of the quizzes can be fed into your Blackboard grade book without any effort on your part.

back to top

How to level the playing field if you allow students to have access to old exams

If you allow students to keep their own exams, or if you put old exams in the library, some students may have access to these old exams whereas others may not. Reasons for uneven access include that some students do not have friends who took your course in the past or some students may steal the library copies to give themselves an advantage over others. John Connors suggests that we put these old exams on the Blackboard site for your course and that way everyone has equal access to them. This might even motivate some students to look at the Blackboard site more often.

back to top

*Getting better term papers and giving students experience with peer assessment

Here's a win-win way for you to read better term papers and for the students to get some experience with peer assessment at the same time:

  • Develop a grading rubric for how you will grade term papers.
    Give students the rubric when you assign the paper.
  • Students need to give their almost final draft of their term paper to a student in the class 2 weeks before it is due to you.
  • The peer that reads it over and scores it on the rubric. The final paper needs to be handed in with the peer's rubric paper and comments. This peer scoring should count also.

The presenters, Ike Shibley, Tami Mysliwiec, and Maureen Dunbar, from Penn State-Berks College at the workshop on teaching content rich courses had this wonderful idea.

back to top

*Helping students to see how much they progressed during the semester

Some times students get so caught up in the day to day work of a class that they forget how much they progressed over a semester or a year. Giving students feedback on how much they progressed is very empowering for further learning skills, etc. If at all possible try to individualize what students have made the most progress on either through individual or group communications.

back to top

*Having the audience be more involved with student presentations

Pam Kearney suggested this tip:

When students are making presentations, have the other students offer feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation and other constructive criticism. The students in the audience receive points based upon the quality of the feedback and comments they make. The audience does not evaluate the presenters and do assign points or a grade for the presentation.

back to top

*Evaluating students on class participation

Most faculty like to include class participation in their grading, but find it difficult to grade for it. Develop a scoring rubric using 2-3 criteria and 3 levels of participation for each rubric. Suggested criteria might be what new ideas did the student contribute, how much did the student apply content/reading, etc. to what he/she said, and evidence of critical thinking. You might grade students using these rubrics every month so they can see patterns. Then class participation can be graded and it should count around 20% of the final grade.

This idea came from JoAnne Majors of Immaculata University.

back to top

*Another way to make exams a time for learning

When you give out an exam attach a marked (could be stamped in a color that cannot photocopy well) colored piece of paper to it. Tell the students that can make a note of the concepts they did not understand and hand in the paper the next class listing the concepts and their new understanding of them. If you are concerned about them copying the questions, making them hand in the exact paper they took out of the exam room might help alleviate this worry. If students adequately demonstrate a greater understanding on the take home aspect, they can earn up to 1/2 of the points for the concepts they covered on the paper.

back to top

Getting a quick read on how students are doing while checking for who is enrolled

Once the add-drop period ends, the registrar's office always asks us to verify student enrollment of each individual. Instead of taking roll in class or checking if all students have handed in at least one assignment, give the students a very brief formative assessment (i.e., 1 questions on the major idea they have learned so far in the class, or their most confusing aspect of the content thus far), ask the questions in several venues and request that each student complete the activity once with their name on their work. You can first give them a few minutes in class to complete the assessment, you can post it on your Blackboard site for your class and email your students (can be done quickly from your Blackboard page, if you created one) the same assessment assignment. You can also tell your students to tell their friends to complete the assignment if they still want to be considered enrolled in the class. A complete record from all your students will give you the information requested by the registrar's office and some insights as to how much the students are learning or how confused they are.

back to top


Some guidance to decide if you want to allow for extra credit

About 3/4 way through the semester many students realize that they are not earning the grades they wanted or needed to earn. Many ask for extra credit opportunities. Faculty have different views of extra credit. I would like to suggest a guideline for you to decide if you want to allow for extra credit. You can set a policy that you will not allow students to earn extra credit if they did not complete a major assignment, have not participated adequately in class, or who violated any academic integrity or honesty policies in your course. This policy means that students who have blown off your course are not eligible to earn extra credit, but you can decide if the rest who have been trying but not always mastering might be eligible. Be sure the policy is announced to all and enforced uniformly.

back to top

Extra credit that focuses on learning from previous shortcomings

If you want to allow your students to earn from their previous shortcomings, you can assign an extra credit, learning portfolio. Students resubmit some or all of their previous graded work along with revisions of papers, explanations and sources where they found the correct answer or new insights into their understanding of the material. This will work better for essay type of assignments. Students should not be able to earn full credit to make up for previous low grades. You can grade on quality and quantity of work revised. Students can only get credit if they submit their previous work that has been graded. This is not meant to be a make-up for work not done rather as a way to learn previous work better.

Using self-assessments in your courses and having them count toward the grade

On-line platforms, such as BlackBoard, offer opportunities for your students to do self-assessments and for you to have them count toward the g grade. Cathy Poon suggests that you give students many more possible points (or questions) than will count for the grade. This places the emphasis on learning and not on getting the answer right or on the grade. She suggest that you count the total self assessments during the course for between 5-20% of the course grade. Feedback on the accuracy of the answers can be given after the deadline for submitting the student work (also a nice feature on BlackBoard). Cathy further suggests that you use self-assessments for problem solving or analysis and not just for factual work. Your feedback can include a model answer, and why other kinds of reasoning are not right, can be made up in advance or once you see students' errors and then placed on BlackBoard as feedback to all students at once.

back to top

Giving timely and quality feedback to students

Students expect immediate feedback on their performance on graded assignments, perhaps because of scantron exams or the immediate world they live in. However, if faculty are grading essay answers or papers, such grading takes a long time especially if you are going to give students real feedback on their performance and constructive comments for improvement. Let students know when you expect to get their assignments or tests back and why if is taking so long. Try to give students individualized and constructive feedback in a streamlined way. Possibilities include: keep a list of your most common comments and check off the comments and return the checklist to the students when you return the assignments, use scoring rubrics, grade on-line so you can cut and past the same comments, rewrite the first paragraph as an example and then ask the students to redo the rest. Cathy Poon and Anne Marie Flanagan will be offering other ideas on this topic at their TableTalk on Tuesday March 1 at noon in the woman's club room.

back to top

*Using a bingo card concept to increase student interaction with the content and decrease procrastination

This is a more complex tip than usual, but I thinK it is worth trying.

Create a bingo card with cells giving the types of additional activities you want the student to do to help them engage in the regular and consistent interaction with the content necessary to really retain it. Examples for the cells might include:

  • you might ask the students to create a 20 item crossword puzzle, with the answer provided, on the terms used in a chapter
  • ask five intelligent questions pertaining to the class material during a class
  • have > 95% class attendance
  • find a website that is accurate about a concept discussed in the textbook, etc.

Distribute the bingo card at the beginning of the semester and let the students know that this is an optional assignment.

When a student shows proof that (s)he completes the activity the instructor marks the box. Prizes are given when people complete a line or several lines. Prizes can be to drop the lowest quiz grade, can bring a study sheet with information to the final exam or adding 5 points to the final exam score. The irony is that students who get the most lines probably will not need the prizes because the extra work they did helped them to master the material. However, the motivation to earn the prize may have helped them to engage in the content more and to decrease their procrastination.

This tip was adapted from Amy Jo Sutterluety, Bingo Game Decreases Procrastination, Increases Interaction with Content. The Teaching Professor, Nov. 2002: 16 (9) 5-6.

How you can help all of you students next semester to get an A in your class

If you do not grade on a curve (a certain number of students get an A, a certain number fail, etc.), then theoretically all of your students can get an A in your class. If you are comfortable with all students potentially getting an A in your class, you might point that out to the students in the syllabus or the first day. Then it is essential to state what the students must do to earn an A in your class and what the grade they will earn if they do lower qualify work or fewer assignments. Spelling out your grading policies this way can encourage all students to strive for an A and not just those who normally work for them.

back to top

Students helping peers to learn better

Students take advice much better from peers than from us. Why not incorporate student study strategies from previous years in the help you give current students. Sara Spinler wrote her students after they got back the results on her exam and asked those who did well on specific questions (the harder concept, I assume) to volunteer to write down very specific strategies and tips they used for studying. She would also like to share specific examples of things they made up. This type of help can be posted on Blackboard for all students to have access and you might want to spend some class time going over some of the strategies, tips and examples as a way of helping students to learn how to learn your material.

back to top

Asking students to assess themselves on exams or papers

If you ask students to hand in a written assessment of their own performance on an exam or a paper, they may accept more responsibility for their grade, and not think the grade was arbitrarily determined. A few suggestions for self-assessments are:

  • What questions do you think you got right or what questions do you think you missed and why? (for multiple choice tests, ask students to comment on only a small part of the exam)
  • How confident are you of your answers?
  • How well do you think you did on this exam compared to previous ones in this course?
  • Reflect on how you used the lessons learned from previous graded work in this course to improve your performance on this assignments/test?

back to top

*Using a special answer sheet to allow students to see immediately how they did on an exam

I have purchased a package of answer sheets that allow students to see if they got a multiple choice answer correct (immediate feedback assessment technique). If not they can scratch off a second, or third or 4th answer (and you can give partial credit for second or third attempts). These answer sheets are great for group quizzes as they can continue discussing the alternatives until they get the answer right or to show dominant members that they are always correct and shy members that they may be more correct than they thought. If you would like to try them, contact me. Each sheet has 50 items and can be used for several shorter quizzes. If you want to use them on a more regular basis, contact me for ordering information, Phyllis Blumberg, Ph.D., Director of the Teaching and Learning Center University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, 60 S. 43rd Street, Box 68, Philadelphia, Pa 19104 - 215-895-1167, fax 215-895-1112
email p.blumbe@usip.edu

back to top

Essential components of assigning grades for your students

To grade your students you need to:

  1. have an adequate number of student performance indicators such as tests, assignments, projects, papers, etc.
  2. develop a set of criteria by which to evaluate each performance indicator
  3. analyze or interpret the results of the combination of 1 and 2

Even if you use scantron grading, you still need to take time to do the last two steps. Look carefully at the item analysis in case you have to throw out a question or allow for two answers.

As you look at the results, decide if the scores seem valid and true to you. Does the distribution look right? recheck a few papers or student final averages appear correct - in other words is this a C student?

Finally the grades should serve as a stimulus for self-feedback. What can you do to improve your teaching of this course next time?

back to top


Helping students to prepare for tests

When you make up an exam, calculate the percentage that the critical thinking or higher level problem solving counts on this exam. Then let your students know how much the higher level thinking skills will count on the exam prior to the exam. This might help them to study differently.

back to top

Helping exams in large rooms to go smoothly

If you are giving an exam in a large room, particularly if you are using several rooms or the testing center, please assign students seats in advance. These assignments should be given to the students in advance also. Please tell the students that they need to be in their correct seats to get credit for the exam. Ask the students to display their student ID beside them, that way you can easily check if they are in the right seats, and note by name students you need to talk to or observe closely.

Elisabeth Morlino has developed a best arrangement seating chart for the large classrooms.

One faculty reported that his/her class was supposed to be taking an exam in the testing center and another class had taken seats that were not assigned to that class. This meant that the students entering to take their exams could not sit where they were assigned, led to major confusion and poor exam taking conditions. Please encourage your students to be considerate of others in testing situations.

These tips come from Elisabeth Morlino, and Barbara Little.

back to top

Making returning tests a learning experience for the students and not a defensive experience for you

When you return tests, instead of going over the answers yourself, ask the students to work in small groups to go over the test. Ask them to discuss the questions they found confusing or difficult and record in a list those questions that the entire group found confusing or difficult. This will give you worthwhile feedback and should eliminate much of the students trying to put you on the defensive end of their statements.

Kevin Wolbach uses this idea in his classes.

back to top

Assessing group performance

Let your small groups determine how they want to assess themselves in terms of group performance, or let them establish their own criteria for group functioning. Then you can show them how you would like to assess themselves in terms of group performance.

Participants at a workshop this past week suggested this tip. These participants were Steven Neau, Shawn Boyle, Maria Brown, Peter Harvison and Natalie Coleman.

Thank them if you like this tip.

back to top

Allowing students a chance to correct themselves when they do not make a good presentation

For many students making a presentation is a very stressful event. We may see the presentation as low risk compared to a job related presentation, but the students do not have the same perspective. If we take the wind out of students' presentation by asking them a question they cannot answer, telling them their thinking is off base or having a completely different perspective on an issue, the students may not be able to recover and continue with the presentation. In fact they may freeze, or just continue with what they planned because they do not have any prepared alternatives. To help students to succeed in presentation, we may want to ask them key questions to think about in advance, ask for an outline or their Power Point in advance, or even allow them an opportunity to redo a presentation. Most important, we need to help the students to feel comfortable making the presentation and to let them know that we expect this to be a learning experience and not an Academy award winning performance.

back to top

Giving quizzes as a learning experience

If you give difficult quizzes on-line, give feedback if the answer is correct or incorrect but not give the correct answer, and allow students to take the quiz 3 times within a week, many students will use this as a way to review the material and to learn better. Getting an answer wrong may motivate students to reread their notes or the readings. It will also give the students a feel for the type of difficult questions you will ask on an examination. These quizzes can be multiple choice problems solving or synthesis questions. These quizzes should count a small percentage of the final grade since they are more formative assessments than formative ones. Students may think they are cheating by taking the quizzes as a group, but in fact they are actually learning from each other and discussing the work.

This type of quiz can be started mid-semester as a way of piloting the ideas for the next time you teach the course or gradually as you build up the question bank.

This idea was modified from Jan Anderson at CA State University.

back to top

Avoiding the student perception that you are not fair, or not doing your job right

Students think instructors are unfair if they give inconsistent messages. For example, if you tell your students that you will develop their knowledge, skills and critical thinking, but only test them on the first 2 and not critical thinking, they might perceive you as unfair. Further if you tell them that you value the process and the product and only grade them on the product, they might also think that you are not fair. The converse also is true. If you do not tell students that you want to see their thinking process, their intermediate steps or they work, they will be annoyed if you grade them down for not showing them.

back to top

What to include about assessment on your syllabi

Try to explain your rationale and create a supportive environment for student learning and student success on your syllabi.

  • The types of assessments you will use, the weights for each one
  • Feedback mechanisms you will use to give students an idea of how they are performing and how they can improve
  • How the assessment relates to the learning outcomes and objectives for the course
  • Any opportunities for revising or redoing assignments or tests

back to top

Helping students to learn and demonstrate their mastery of a skill that may be embedded within a larger context

Often we teach and assess skills such as problem solving or written communication while teaching or assessing with a larger context that focuses on the content of the course. Students may not demonstrate their best abilities on the skill, especially during an in class assessment. To help students focus on the skill on a test, such as problem solving or critical reasoning, indicate on the test that this is a question that focuses on the particular skill. Then give students sub-scores for the skills you are assessing on, in addition to the overall or content score. Give students feedback on how they did on the skill separately or how they can improve their skill performance.

back to top

Are your students collaborating too much on or of class assignments?

Our students naturally share their ideas and writings with each other through their blogs, postings on walls of facebook, sharing files, etc. We also encourage them to collaborate with each other in labs, group projects in class and out of class. As a result many of our students have a hard time distinguishing between what they need to do individually and what they can do collaboratively for assignments that are not exams. Unless we specify that this assignment needs to be written individually or have individual components, students mistakenly believe they can work together. Make clear your expectations about writing alone and also require your students to do a personal reflection or application either as part of the out of class assignment or for a few minutes in class or online.

My colleague Linda Nilson at Clemson University suggested this idea.

back to top

Planning low stakes assessments that encourage students to come to class prepared and on time

At every class, at the very beginning of the class, give a 5 minute assessment exercise. Ask 2-3 multiple choice questions on material covered in the reading or any preparation for today's class, and 1 multiple choice or short answer question on the material from the last class. These assessments will take care of attendance, punctuality and encourage better preparation for class. It will also give you feedback on how well students understood what you just covered in enough time to correct any misunderstandings. You can drop a small percentage of the lowest grades in the overall score for these assessments

This idea comes from Todd Zakrajsek of Central Michigan University.

back to top

Giving student feedback that they will read, appreciate and use

As instructors, we often spend much time making all kinds of comments on papers. Then we get disappointed when students do not seem to read our comments or even worse do not appear to learn form them.

If we ask our students to indicate what kind of feedback they are particularly seeking on drafts, they might be more inclined to take our comments more seriously because they might come at a "teachable moment" for the students. You can do this asking the students to write on a cover sheet what area of the paper they felt they needed the most help improving (e.g.organization, clarify of argument, using evidence appropriately to support their perspective, accuracy, paraphrasing, etc. Of course the suggestions for areas will vary by course and the purpose of the assignment). Then as you grade pay special attention to providing feedback on this area.

I also advocate for students to indicate how much time they spent on the assignment and what they think is their weakest point or where they could do better. This gives you some further ideas for feedback for improvement.

The idea for asking students what kind of feedback they are seeking comes from research conducted by Bloxham and Campbell (2010) where they found this to be effective. Their research is reported in Assessment and Evaluaton in Higher Educaton, 35(3), 291-300. This article is available from our library.

back to top

Multiple Choice Questions

*Helping students prepare for multiple choice questions

If you return your tests during the semester, you can help students to prepare for your next multiple choice question test. This especially works if your final is cumulative. Tell the students about levels of questions - low being factual or definitions, middle being application and higher involving problem solving. Suggest to the students that they go through their old tests and code the questions they got wrong by level. Give students different strategies to study low, middle and high level questions. Perhaps they are not preparing enough for the higher level questions. This exercise might help them to see what types of questions you ask and to realize that they need to do more than just memorize facts.

back to top

Multiple Choice Testing

Some perceptive students read into alternatives on multiple choice tests what was not intended by the instructor. This leads to student frustration. To help this problem:

Pass out a blank sheet of paper with the scan sheets, allow the students to write a brief explanation of any ambiguous items on the paper

The explanation must begin with the item number and which alternative they selected on their answer sheet for you to read the explanation. This cuts down on the instructor's time. If they selected the correct answer, they already got credit for the item and the instructor does not need to read the explanation

Any student whose explanation convinces the instructor that the student understands the material in question gets credit for the item

This also helps the instructor to see which items are ambiguous.

back to top

*Returning Multiple Choice Tests Without Getting Defensive

Here are a few suggestions on how to defuse students' affect when you return Multiple Choice Questions tests and keep you from getting defensive:

When you give the test allow students to justify their answers on a separate sheet of paper. If the explanation makes sense give that student credit for the alternative answer.

Before returning the tests, throw out any questions that >50% of the class and >50% of the top 10 students on that test got wrong.

Ask students to give you feedback politely, otherwise it will not be considered

Defer all decisions on changing answers or give additional items credit to later when you are alone and can think without pressure.

Make test returning a teaching/learning experience not a mark grubbing experience.

These suggestions come from a great book by Maryellen Weimer called, "Learner-Cented Teaching" that we have in the center.

back to top

Returning multiple choice tests or grades on multiple choice exams

When you give a multiple choice exam, do not post the answers or the student grades right away. Instead, first take a look at the item statistics provided by the scantron analysis. See if you need to restore, double score or throw out any items. After you have made the adjustments and rerun the tests, then you can give students feedback on how they did. This will keep a lot of angry students away from your door.

back to top

Posting grades for multiple choice tests

When you use a scantron to grade multiple choice tests, you could posts grades, either electronically or other ways quickly after you run the answers through the scanner. This may lead to many student complaints. Instead look at the item analysis to see if you made any mistakes, or if the students saw things differently than you did. After you consider the item analysis, and reconsider the troublesome items, you might want to throw out some questions, or perhaps double code some questions. Then run answer sheets again using the revised answer sheet. Post these revised grades and you may save hearing complaints from the students. You might also tell the students you are doing this, so they should not expect to see their grades immediately.

back to top

Designing good multiple choice items


Linda Robinson gave some practical advice on how to write good multiple choice questions in her recent workshop:

  • If you write the stem properly, good students should know the answer before they read the alternatives.
  • If you cannot think of 4 good alternatives, make it a 3 choice item or change the format to be a non-multiple choice item. Do not make up a non-plausible alternative just to have a 4^th one.
  • When you write the alternatives, unless there is a logical reason for the order, such as increasing numbers, always put the correct answer in the first alternative as you draft the test. Then randomly assign the correct answer to slots. If you don't do this randomization, but just write the alternatives, you will most likely end up with the middle response as the correct answer more often.

Another multiple choice tip: If in doubt, the longest answer is usually the correct one because it has to be accurate). So make sure that the length of your alternatives is similar.
Jenny Beer

back to top

Using judgment questions on multiple choice tests

You can use multiple choice questions that require judgment or selecting the best course of action. If you do so, you can also award partial credit for acceptable but not the best choice. For example, the best choice might be worth 3 points, and less acceptable choices might be worth 1-2 points.

Linda Robinson suggested this grading idea.

back to top


Essay, papers

Efficient grading of essays

If you are giving the students essay questions or a term paper, or even a shorter paper, ask the students to submit a blank audio tape along the their paper or exam. You can give oral feedback much quicker and therefore can give more detail if you dictate the feedback into a tape recorder. Put a number beside the paragraph or section you are responding to and start your response to the student regarding #1.

You might consider having the students submit an electronic copy. Then you can make comments right on the paper and give much easier to read feedback.

Here's another idea from Stan Zietz, the chair of Math, Physics, Statistics and Computer sciences. If you are giving the students essay questions or a term paper, or even a shorter paper, ask the students to submit a blank audio tape along with their paper or exam. You can give oral feedback much quicker and therefore can give more if you dictate the feedback into a tape recorder. Put a number beside the paragraph or section you are responding to and start your response to the student regarding #1.

back to top

*Grading Papers, Essays Efficiently

Christine Flanagan developed this tip. If you get a paper or short essay that is poorly written, poorly organized, repetitious, does not give enough evidence to support the thesis, etc. do not continuously make the same comments throughout. Instead, choose 1 paragraph or 1 short essay that reflects the problems of the larger work. Thoroughly mark up that sample, show how it could be rewritten, give examples, etc. to show how the answer or paper could be improved. If you are willing, give the student the chance to rewrite the entire paper showing that he/she understood and learned from the paragraph you marked up.

back to top

Grading papers

Before you begin to grade a set of papers, make up a numbered checklist of all of the criteria that you will use in grading. You might divide it into points that need to be improved, such as needs elaboration, redundant, needs a citation, spelling, grammar, inaccurate interpretation, etc, and good points such as good opening, thorough explanation of ideas, good development, proper use of English, etc. Of course there should vary from discipline to discipline. When you wish to comment on one of these on the paper, just put the number of the item on the checklist beside the sentence. Then staple a copy of the checklist to each paper. A quick review of those items indicated most can help you write a summary comment at the end. If you are really organized, you can distribute this checklist to students in advance of when they hand in the paper so they will know what you are looking for also. You might want to keep this checklist form one year to the next, edit it and adapt it for the level of course.

back to top

Streamlining grading essay exams or papers

Develop a standard comment sheet to be distributed to all students. You can individualize a few comments at the end.

Instead of writing comments on the students' papers, write them on your computer. Comments that are made frequently can be made into a boilerplate response.

Give advice on how to solve or correct commonly missed points or problems.

List the individual feedback that can be shared with everyone at the bottom-such as how you determined partial credit.

Then attach a sheet of paper, if necessary, containing some brief individual comments.

I received a form letter-like email, with some general customization at the bottom in response to a request I made to a company that prompted this tip.

back to top

*Getting students to improve their own writing

Many of us spend much time correcting papers or essay exams and trying to get students to improve their writing. However, we may not be very effective in getting students to improve. Perhaps we need to start where the students are. Ask the students to write a short piece attached to the paper stating their strengths and areas of difficulty with the paper or essay. This encourages students to be reflective practitioners about their own learning. Then when you grade the paper you can spend more time giving feedback on those points that were raised by the student. Perhaps you could even have a brief conference with some of the students going over your feedback on their perceived strengths and areas of difficulty.

back to top

Grading exams, papers and giving students feedback

When grading exams or papers, speak to the learner, not the error. Comments or a grade is a tool for communicating with the learner. Our responsibility as instructors is help the learner move forward. The question you want to ask is: What does this learner need from me at this time to learn more? Then shape your comments accordingly:

Do not focus only on justifying the grade:

Focus on what the student has achieved and what might yet be achieved.

Take the time to reflect on and respond to what the student says.

This is similar to a good reviewer for a manuscript for publication.

Acknowledge what has been achieved.

back to top

*Making your time to grade papers more efficient and helping the students learn more

Research shows that students read and attend to feedback when it is given on drafts of papers far more than on the final copy. This is especially true at the end of a semester. Therefore, if your students are handing in papers for which you have not seen earlier drafts, do not spend a lot of time writing out comments and feedback to them.

You could grade them globally, by de terming criteria or a rubric for an A,B,C,D or F papers. Then read them quickly to see if your criteria make sense. Read them again, without a pen in hand and sort them into grade piles. Do a final random check of a few from each pile. Without writing comments, you will cut you time for grading. Then attach the same copy of your criteria to the students in advance and ask them to self-assess.

Next semester ask the students to hand in parts of the paper, or steps-such as the problem or thesis statement, key resources consulted, etc. or drafts in advance. Your final papers will be a higher quality.

back to top

Helping students to organize for essay exams

Here is a good organizer to tell students about and even write on the top of essay exams. Just remember REDOER

R = read the question thoroughly
E = evaluate what is being asked
D = determine how and what you will answer
O = organize your thoughts and your answer
E = execute your answer
R = Review and revise your answer

Perhaps you notices students' answers that did not reflect all of these steps as you grade now.

back to top

Helping students to write better essays and papers

When you assign a paper or an essay specify the intended audience or readers. Students will write a better paper if they think they are not writing for you. You may tell them they are writing for a lay audience such as for a newspaper or a professional audience. Giving the audience also helps the students frame their argument and select proper language.

back to top


Asking students to reflect on their papers or projects

On the day students hand in their projects or large papers, ask them to reflect on some aspect of the project or their learning. For example, you could ask them: what they learned from doing this project or what they would do differently if they were to do the project over again. Or you could ask them to choose a reference that they used for the paper and state why they agreed or disagree with the author.

They can either spend a few minutes in class or write online if they hand in their work on digital drop boxes once they hand in their assignment

This exercise is a quick check that they. student, know something about their projects (that they did the work) and it also serves as a good reflection on their own learning.

back to top

Getting student's insight into their writing

When students have to write a large paper or do a big project, as they hand it in, ask the students to reflect on what they learned or what they would do differently if they had to redo the paper. This gives you insight into what they learned and if they actually did the paper. It can also help you improve the assignment

back to top

Helping students to write better essays or term papers

Students often write papers or essays knowing that only the instructor will read them. Our writing instructors have found that people write better when they think another audience will read their work. To motivate students to do their best for you, remind them that they should be writing for a critical reader. You might also ask them to check that they address the following questions in their writing:

  1. What is your point? Tell it directly as a stated thesis.
  2. What is your credibility to speak on this topic? What experts are you citing or using their ideas?
  3. Why the arguments that oppose yours are weak or not appropriate?
  4. What is the relevance of your thesis to larger issues?
  5. Are you wasting the reader's time? Make your argument efficiently and without extra verbiage.

These ideas come from Christopher Baker at Atlantic State University and were printed in the Dec. 2008 issue of The Teaching Professor.

back to top

Do your students complain about taking essay exams?

Mary Ellen Weimer did a survey of her students to find out why they dislike essay exams more than other types, especially multiple choice exams. Her students told her that it is because they do not know how to study for them. I suspect we would find the same thing here. As a solution to this problem, ask your students who did very well on your essay exams to describe how they studied for these exams. Compile all of these ideas and post them along with the materials for this course or all of your courses on the course management system (Angel at USciences). You can ask students each year and update the list whenever needed. The same advice can be given year after year.

A variation on this idea is to post a list in general of student suggestions for how to succeed in your course.

These ideas come from Mary Ellen Weimer's latest book (2010) Inspiring College Teaching (Jossey-Bass.)

back to top

Helping students learn how to and to value making revisions to their writing or to their projects

Students often write 1 draft of their work and never revise anything. Yet the revision process is an essential part of learning and improving. To help students learn to revise their work and value this part of the learning process, tell students that you will save a small percentage of their grade on a project or paper if they do significant revisions. There are several ways of dong this:

  • Students could use track changes and submit their final product along with earlier drafts to show how they changed it.
  • They can make these revisions occur after you, their peers or other assessors evaluate it
  • Students can write a few paragraphs of the revised work
  • Students can write a reflection on how they would revise the product


Shelley Reid from George Mason University suggested these ideas on how to get students to revise their work.

back to top

Giving better directions to students for essays and assignments

One of the common mistakes that students make when they write an essay or complete an assignment is they assume the audience knows what they knows. However, this false assumption often leads to a paper that lacks context. Ask your students to include background information, perhaps even rewriting the charge to them. They should write what they know about the subject in a manner that the audience will understand.

Explicitly define who the audience is for assignments and essays unless it is to be the instructor. To make the assessment more authentic, define the audience as someone else, such as their peers, a lay audience, health care professionals, etc. Many faculty have found that if they even ask other people to evaluate these assignments, students are more motivated to do a better job.

Then when your are grading, include an item on addressing audience and purpose on your grading rubrics.

Justin Everett suggests your grading rubric include other criteria including organization, style, unit, comprehension, coherence in addition to all of the aspects of content you want to assess.

The teaching and Learning Center will be moving on Monday to 124 Mc Neil Hall. Please be patient if you want to borrow any resources from us as we unpack. I will continue to be available to meet people individually in their offices throughout our transition.

back to top




The Grading Process

*Making returning or discussing tests a teachable moment

Because grades are so important to our students, we should capitalize on the teachable moments when we return tests, or meet with students individually to discuss their grades or a test. When you are engaged in such activities, ask yourself: What do you want the student to learn now? What long term message can you be giving your students now about learning, your respect for them, their confidence or ability to succeed? Think about what you say when returning or discussing tests. Students are more inclined to listen and remember these words than those delivered during a lecture.

back to top

Managing the grading process

As we get closer to when grades are due, the grading process seems to take on an increased importance. To manage the grading process, faculty must abandon 3 common false assumptions about grading-grading can be totally objective, there can be total agreement about the grade and that grades are the most important motivator for students. Instead adapt the following principles developed by Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson (their book, Effective Grading A Tool for Learning and Assessment is available in the Teaching and Learning Center):

Use grading as a tool for learning

Substitute judgment for objectivity

Distribute time effectively-spend time to make professional judgments, then move on

Communicate and collaborate with students-explain your criteria and standards

Be a teacher first, a gatekeeper last

back to top

Giving students an extra assignment

Toward the very end of the semester, some students seem to wake up to the fact that their GPA will not be what they want or need it to be. Some of them ask for extra credit assignments. (It depends on your philosophy if you would consider an extra assignment.) Here are 3 suggestions for an extra assignment, if you agree to give extra assignments. You set the limit on the number of extra points a student might receive.

Ask students to document and comment on, and critically evaluate class content-related materials that they find in the popular media, such as a newspaper, magazine, television, or film.

Ask students to attend a class-related community activity and comment on the insights gained, and how it relates to the course content.

Have the students to write a short paper developing the personal applications of the course material. Giving students options in the types of extra assignments might also help them find a topic that they can get excited about and finally make a link to the content.

back to top

Should you curve your grades

Generally I do not recommend curing grades on tests or courses because it has many disadvantages (e.g., promotes competition, may discourage students from studying together, etc). An alternative for entire course grades is to use the school's cutoff for each grade and to announce that you reserve the right to slightly lower the cutoff but not to raise them. At the end of the semester you can see if you need to make some minor adjustments in the cutoff to have a better distribution of grades or to keep a few people from failing. This alternative was suggested by Judith Miller at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

back to top

*Helping students to learn when you give and return tests

Students are very motivated when teachers return tests. Often they are motivated to get a better grade, but you can turn that motivation into achieving better learning. When you return a test, have students get into groups to discuss what are the best answers and why. This can work for multiple choice tests and for essay tests. Have students learn why an answer is correct, or well done.

This same technique of working together in small groups can work after students have taken the test individually and before it is graded. You might even count the group answers toward individual credit.

Some faculty question spending this much time on 1 test, but the rationale is that this is motivated learning time for the students to really learn.

*Helping students to take group assignments more seriously

Some faculty feel that some students do not take group responsibilities as seriously as they should. One way to help students take group responsibilities or assignments more seriously is to give the students some choice in how much group responsibilities count (you could give them a range of possibilities) and to allow them to come up with some of the criteria on which they will be assessed on these assignments. These criteria might include individual contributions, attitude toward group members, etc.

The ideas follow from my reading of Michaelson, Fink, and Knight book on Team-Based Learning

back to top

Treating all your students fairly with their final grades

Alan Sims tells me that there are many grades changed after they have been handed in. If you are changing grades for some students are you giving an unfair advantage to the complainers, mark grubbers or more empowered students? Did those who did not complain for many reasons have an equal access to a higher grade? Perhaps the only reason why grades should be changed after they have been handed in is if the instructor made a mistake.

back to top

Some guidance to decide if you want to allow for extra credit

About 3/4 way through the semester many students realize that they are not earning the grades they wanted or needed to earn. Many ask for extra credit opportunities. You can set a policy that you will not allow students to earn extra credit if they did not complete a major assignment, have not participated adequately in class, or who violated any academic integrity or honesty policies in your course. This policy means that students who have blown off your course are not eligible to earn extra credit, but you can decide if the rest who have been trying but not always mastering might be eligible. Be sure the policy is announced to all and enforced uniformly.

back to top

Explaining your grading system on the first day of class

Ask students what grade they want to earn in your course before you give them the grading scheme. Then go over how they will earn an A,B,C. This is especially relevant if students have to do different types of assignments or more assignment to earn a higher grade. If you allow student to redo assignments or hand in assignments late but not earn full credit this should be explained to them also when you have their attention.

Andrew Peterson suggested this tip.

back to top

Grading papers more efficiently

As the end of the semester approaches we find ourselves grading many papers. Often students make the same types of mistakes or reasons why they lose points. Develop a check list for why students lose points in advance of beginning to grade and add to the list as you grade. When a student makes one of these common mistakes or writes a less than perfect answer, check off the rationale or reason on the checklist. Then staple your checked checklist to each paper. This should save you time in grading and provide the students feedback on their work.

Christine Flanagan suggested this idea

back to top

Helping students to do better on redone assignments

If you allow or require students to redo an assignment or a paper after you have seen or graded it, give your students more explicit directions of your expectations with the request for the redone work. If you used a scoring rubric, let the students see the rubric and how they did on the rubric. Then tell them what components they can redo to improve the paper. Without these explicit expectations students may not know how to improve the paper.

Anne Marie Flanagan suggested this tip.

back to top

*Grading for student groups

Excellent students are often anxious about receiving group grades for group assignments because they feel their grade may be lower than what they usually receive. Students need to have a mechanism for letting you know about their peers who did not contribute or were even worse. You need to give students permission to fire a group member or leave the group themselves to become part of another group. However, before they take such a drastic step, they should try to work out problems and discuss their concerns with you. If students have not let you know about any problems during the term, they may find that their group project is not as good as it could have been and their grade may reflect that lack of communication.


Grading papers fast at the end of the semester

Although I have suggested many times that you give feedback to students, the end of the semester is not the time to give detailed feedback to students. Most students are only interested in their final grades and not feedback. Instead use this system to quickly grade your essays and papers.

Read your papers over quickly without putting any remarks on the papers and put them into 5 piles of A,B,C,D, and F. Then read them over within each pile and rank order them within a grade to assign more refined points, such as B+ or B-. The only comments you should make on papers are ways to remind you how you are grading-such as incorrect facts, confused or not well developed.

back to top

Regrading work that has been previously turned in

Many faculty allow/require students to hand in work that been previously graded to show that they can make it better. This is a good way to get the students to really learn the material or practice skills. If you use a grading rubric when you grade the material, staple the original scoring sheet to the revised product. Then you can use a different color link and re-grade only those sections that you are looking for or that the students were redoing. You can arrive at a new final grade quicker and only concentrate on what you need to redo.

back to top

Plan your assignments differently to save your time grading

As you plan a course, try to think of all of the assignments, tests, projects, papers, etc. that you will be assessing and grading in a course. Reduce the number of time consuming assignments that you will grade, while still giving frequent feedback on mastery and progress to the students. Here are a few suggestions to reduce your time in the grading process:

  • Use online assessments for factual information that provide feedback and record the grade
  • Use peer assessments for formative feedback
  • Develop a scoring rubric in advance of the assignment
    • Let the students self-assess on the scoring rubric
    • Have peers assess each other using this rubric, then you just grade for accuracy, completeness
  • Develop answer sheets that students can check their own work
  • Focus your grading on 1-2 major assignments that bring together the most learning
  • Spend time with in-process work and give feedback there

Good luck in having a successful start to the semester

back to top

Counting class participation as part of final grade

Many faculty count class participation as part of the final grade. For many faculty this category allows them some wiggle room in determining the final grade. Faculty need to be more explicit about what they mean by participation. Students need to understand that just nodding a head, repeating a point made by someone else or asking for clarification is not good class participation. You might need to model the types of remarks, questions, etc. that you consider good class participation . Since some students are shy about talking in class or think about points after class, you might also consider an online discussion, chat or blog that continues the class discussion. Participation online should also count as class participation . Further, faculty need to document how students earned their participation grades. If a student asks why a particular class participation grade was assigned, you have to be able to show them evidence or documentation. This because even more important if the class participation grade made a difference of a course letter grade. You might want to take notes with specific examples of participation or lack of participation.

Finally it is a good practice to let students know how they are doing with this component of their grade part way through the semester so they can make modification if necessary.

back to top

Grading efficiently and getting final grades turned in quickly-put down that red pen

Although I usually emphasize giving students lots of formative feedback when you are assessing them, the end of the semester is not the time to do that. The only feedback students want now is the final grade.

Efficiency in grading is the key. Try and of these techniques:

  1. Make a grading rubric of the criteria you will assess the paper or project on. Assign the rubric scores without making any comments on the paper itself. This system allows a quantitative score if you assign weights to the criteria.
  2. Grade globally-read papers quickly and put them into 3 piles - unacceptable, medium and outstanding. The two extreme pile are already graded as F or A. Now read the medium pile again sort them into 3 piles for B,C, D grades. Do a little random checking of your piles to be sure you have not drifted as you read.
  3. If drafts were handed in previously, only read the redone sections to see improvement. Avoid the urge to comment where further work could be done or how writing could be improved.
  4. Unless you are grading for quality of writing, encourage students to write using bullet points or figures on the final. If they write less, you will have less to read. Clarity in comprehension of the concept is what you are looking for.

Remember students are very anxious to get their final grades, and so is the registrar's office. Calculate the final grade, check that you have not made any mistakes and then submit them to the registrar. If you have not gotten all of the material yet, submit an incomplete rather than not submitting a grade.

back to top






*Getting immediate feedback as to the student's understanding of the material you covered in class

As faculty we often wonder if our students understood what we were trying to teach. Examinations are often the first indication of how well and how much the students learned. Yet that may be too late, and also may have a punitive implication for the weaker students Another techniques is to obtain feedback during every or many class(es) through the use of any of many different Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). Plan for these activities and let your students know that you will be doing them and how you will use them. Spend a few minutes at the end of class getting the students to write on 1 of the following:

    the main ideas that were covered

    a question they would like to have answered from the class

    a one sentence summary

    complete a matrix or outline where you provide the structure

or orally give you the answer to a multiple choice question. If they do not get the answer right, have them in small groups discuss the answer and arrive at the right answer. Use the feedback that you learned from these CAT's to change what you are covering, how you cover the material, go over questions, help them with what they missed. Do let the class see that you are using the feedback they provided you to change the next class.

back to top

*Using paper and pencil classroom assessment techniques

Asking students to write an answer to a question posed in class and then have them hand in their written answers (even without their names on the sheet) has the following advantages:

    Increases the number of students who respond

    Promotes more active learning

    Increases the thought time for an answer to be generated

    Forces students to articulate what they are thinking and

    Helps them to be more reflective about their learning

This question should be well written and planned in advance. The instructor should respond to the student answers by giving the students feedback on what they wrote. This feedback should be as immediate as possible.

back to top

*Giving students an early idea of what we expect of them

Give students a very short quiz very early in the semester. Give them a question or two to let them see what you expect them to know, in terms of detail. Let them know that this quiz is intended to give them a sample of the type of exams they will get from you. If you give essay questions, give a smaller essay. This early evaluation helps students to prepare throughout the semester in an appropriate fashion.

back to top



*Engaging students in assessments, self-assessments

Here is an idea that may sound a little off the wall, but it gets students engaged in self-assessment. When you correct a paper or an essay, give much feedback or comments, but to not assign a grade. (Keep a copy of your comments, and the students work.) Ask the student to assign themselves a grade based upon their own assessment and your comments. Also allow students to write any comments back to you. Then you assign the grade and return the paper back to the students. Students will take your comments more seriously and hopefully try to improve.

back to top

*Assessing students on skills or competencies

If you assess students on skills or competencies, you might want to use Cathy Poon's (a faculty member in Pharmacy Practice) approach:

    Assess using 3 levels:


      requires prompting


back to top

*Giving Feedback to your students

Toward the end of the semester, it is a good time to give your students real feedback on their progress. Some suggestions might include:

    Provide feedback on how much progress the student has made, how close he/she was to meeting the learning goals. This might be done as a graph showing individual performance and then handed out to the students in a large class.

    Feedback should be specific and constructive

    Effective feedback is quantitative

    Provide individualized feedback to your upper level students who will be continuing with your course or research. These ideas were modified from Wlodkowski, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn Jossey-Bass, 1999.

back to top

*Planning for self-assessment opportunities in your courses

One of the key features of learning-centered teaching is providing students with many opportunities to self-assess and to gain the skills to be able to judge one's own performance. Fink identified three developmental phases of self-assessment:

    have students collectively develop the criteria for acceptable performance, or for different levels of performance.

    apply these criteria to assessing drafts of other students' work

    then apply these criteria to their own work.

This tip come from L.D. Fink Creating Significant Learning Experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003

back to top

Students helping peers to learn better

Students take advice much better from peers than from us. Why not incorporate student study strategies from previous years in the help you give current students. Sara Spinler wrote her students after they got back the results on her exam and asked those who did well on specific questions (the harder concept, I assume) to volunteer to write down very specific strategies and tips they used for studying. She would also like to share specific examples of things they made up. This type of help can be posted on Blackboard for all students to have access and you might want to spend some class time going over some of the strategies, tips and examples as a way of helping students to learn how to learn your material.

back to top

Helping students learn to be critical about their peer's work

Early in the semester, give 2 writing assignments that are similar and for which you can grade the students using the same grading rubric. Go over your expectations in terms of the rubric when you go over the assignments. The 2 assignments should have the same due date. Assign 50% of the students to do assignment 1 and 50% to do assignment 2. After you remove their names, or have them do them with only their code name or id number and you record that they handed it, give the first group the papers from assignment 2 and the assignment 1 goes to the other group. Ask the students to grade the paper using the rubric. This exercise helps students to develop their own critical evaluation skills. You can either count the grade the students assigned each other or just use it for the purposes of formative feedback.

back to top

Helping students to give and receive peer feedback

If you use peer assessments as part of your class, tell your students that if they practice giving and receiving feedback,they will be better able to receive constructive feedback throughout their careers. This is a skill that takes practice, but is essential to learn.

back to top

Fostering students to take formative feedback seriously

If you want your students to read, react to, and reflect on the formative feedback you give them, then give back your graded essays, projects, etc. With only the formative feedback and not letter or number grade on it. Indicate that students will only get their letter grade when they respond to your feedback. Ask students to email you an answer to questions such as what would they do differently now that they have this feedback, what they learned from this feedback, or further questions for clarification base upon the feedback. Since this process is more time consuming for you, only do it with assignments where formative feedback is important or early enough in the semester to make a difference.

back to top

Helping students complete analytic or creative assignments successfully

Many of our students are good memorizers or try to say what they think their instructor will like. Therefore, they many not get the purpose of analytic or creative assignments. Instead of developing a good argument or putting their own interpretation on material, they give back what they heard from the professor and are surprised when they do not receive a good grade. Instructors can help students understand the requirements in these types of assignments by explicitly saying that they are looking for the students' own thoughts. Tell the students that they will not be graded poorly if they have an interpretation that is different from the professors as long as they develop a good argument, provide evidence and are logical.

back to top



Feedback of the course instructor

Get a quick assessment on how well your classes are going

As we reach the half-way point in the semester, take a few minutes to do a "quick course assessment."

    1. Give a index card to each student, ask each one to:
      1. write a word or phase to describe the course
      2. rate the course on a 5 point scale (e.g., 1 = lowest, 5 = highest)
    2. If you have time, break students into groups of 4 or 5 and have them brainstorm the strengths and weaknesses of the course and rank order the top three of each. Each group write the top 3 strengths and the top 3 weaknesses that the group decided on. You might sit outside the room during this 5-10 minute discussion.
    3. Thank the students for their time and assure them that their feedback will be heard.

This tip come to us the from the US Air Force Academy and especially Barbara Millis and Marie Revak.

back to top

*Determining student objectives for your classes

During the first or second week of class, quickly try to determine what your students want to get out of the class by asking them to write their short answers to these questions for the next class or at the beginning or end of a class:

    1. Something you already know about the subject
    2. Something you want to learn from this course
    3. Something you would like to happen in the course

#1 helps dispel misconceptions and stereotypes at the outset

If you have a large class, you can read randomly selected answers, or only read until you start to get a pattern.

Then try to incorporate their suggestions into your teaching or at least respond to their ideas.

back to top

*Getting formative feedback so you can improve your course

About 1/3 way through the semester, ask your students to write the answers to the following question:

    1. What are we doing that is helping your learning?
    2. What are we point that is hindering your learning?
    3. What can we do differently to improve learning?

Once you have read over the responses and quickly grouped them into themes, give the students feedback on what you are changing as a result of what they said, and explain where changes cannot be made

back to top

Seeking student feedback on aspects of your course

If your department chair approves, consider conducting your own course evaluation instead of the normal one used by this university. You might want to ask specific questions about a few aspects of the course, such as innovations you tried or areas that you wish to work prior to the next time you offer this course. You could hand out the forms and tell the students to return them, unsigned, in the next couple of weeks.

Possible questions to ask include;

    1. How useful was the text for you? (could be made into a statement with agree-disagree and a 5 point scale here) Why or what did you like/not like about the text?
    2. In what way were your attitudes, opinions, values, conceptions about this discipline held at the beginning of the course changed or reinforced?
    3. What do you think of the overall organization of the course? Any suggestions for improvement?
    4. How can the course engage more active learning of this discipline?
    5. Were the graded assignments, including tests, a learning experience for you (a 5 point scale could be used here also)
    6. Did the graded assignments give you an adequate opportunity to demonstrate what you learned?
    7. Overall reaction to the course, comments, etc.

back to top

Getting early feedback on what our students think of your course

Some faculty seem surprised when they get their student evaluation forms. Others may find that this feedback comes too late. A way to remedy these situations and to make improvements in general in your teaching is to ask students what they think of your courses early in the semester.

You might give out a 4x6 card or a half sheet of 8x11 paper and ask students to write on 1 side whet they like about this course and on the other side to write what they would like to see changed or improved. By keeping the response space small you can get quick feedback on major topics and not allow the students to ventilate too much. Then look at trends or patterns.

In the next class address their responses and tell them what can and cannot be changed.

back to top

Finding out what the students really think about your exams

Getting feedback from all students on fairness or appropriateness is important. Some times it is just the vocal one or the weaker ones you hear from. Therefore, ask the students to answer a few feedback questions at the end of an exam. Possibilities include: (many can be answered yes/no with comments)

    • Did the test cover the assigned material?
    • Did the instructor, readings, etc. prepare you for the test?
    • Was sufficient time provided to complete the test?
    • Were the directions clear?
    • Did the test provide an opportunity to show what you learned from the course?
    • Did the test make you think?
    • What were the test's major strengths?
    • What were the test's major weaknesses?

back to top

Which Student rating (formerly called evaluation) form (format) to use?

As Jeanette McVeigh stated in Faculty Council on Thursday, March 21, each department is being asked to reach a consensus on which of four student rating forms or formats to use, either 1 of 2 commercially available forms with good supporting research on its validity and reliability, a homegrown form that has been reviewed by various faculty groups, or developing department-specific mechanisms to get feedback from students.

Before you decide which approach works best for you, your department and the University, consider the following:

    What are you trying to measure?

      for example define the teaching roles:

      • teaching as providing the opportunity to learn
      • teaching as enabling learning
      • teaching as causing learning

    which aspects of teaching dimensions should students react to?:

    • content expertise
    • instructional delivery skills and characteristics
    • instructional design skills
    • course management skills

    who should provide each type of information? what will this information be used for?

    • self-improvement
    • evaluation by chair
    • documentation of promotion and tenure
    • university quality assurance

Some of these thoughts come from a national expert on faculty evaluation, Raoul A. Arreola in his book, Developing a Comprehensive Faculty Evaluation System Anker Publishing, 2002

back to top

*A quick way to get feedback on what is helping students to learn

At an early point in the semester it is a good idea to gather some information about what is working well and what could use improvement in terms of student learning. Gathering these data about 1/3 way done gives you enough time to make corrections if necessary. Develop a list of aspect of your courses you want feedback on such as in-class activities, instructor performance, instructional materials, readings, classroom environment, etc. Beside the list draw 3 columns. Label the first column + (= helped to learn), the second column label delta (= could be changed or improved to improve learning), the third column is comments. The students quickly go down the list and check the appropriate column and fill in comments on why an activity is helping them learn or how an activity could be improved to foster more learning.
This technique come from an article by Elaine McCalahan in College Teaching, 2002, vol, 50#3, p. 93.

back to top


Getting mid-course feedback on your class

About half way through the semester it is a good idea to get a read on what the students think of your course. Ask your students to write their answers to a few questions on topics that you can change or make mid-course corrections. You might consider asking about how fair (in terms of aligned with objectives or what you say will be on the test) You might consider asking about how fair (in terms of aligned with objectives or what you say will be on the test ) your tests are (not how difficulty are your tests), your pacing in your classes, clarification of difficulty concepts, availability to answer questions, etc.

Once you get their feedback address their concerns in class or on Blackboard and indicate if you will be making any changes as a result of what they told you. Some things you may not be able to change or want to change, but it is still worth letting your students know you recognize their concerns. Students will appreciate you more as a teacher and value your class more because you showed them you care about them.

back to top

Using peer, formative feedback to improve final papers

Give students a scoring rubric for how you are going to grade a large assignment as far in advance as possible. If you are asking students to develop a large paper, product or other assignment at the end of the semester, request that the students hand in a draft, or part of the project 2 weeks in advance of the date due. Then ask peers to grade the draft using your scoring rubric and offer very constructive feedback to their peers. If the students take this assignment seriously, you will receive a better product as the final paper and the students will have seen another person's work, which can be very helpful to them. You can offer extra credit or additional points on the paper to students who give excellent feedback. Emphasize to the students how this is a learning experience and how reviewing other's work is a way to learn also and that they will almost likely do better on the final paper having produced an early draft and gotten feedback.

back to top

Giving a hard exam to advanced students

This tip can work for advanced courses or even or qualifying examinations for graduate degrees. Give the students a large set of hard questions in advance of the in-class exam. These questions might require reviewing the literature, comparing and contrasting perspectives, critical evaluation of a document or artifact, etc. Tell students they can work together to research the material or discuss their ideas in advance of the test. Give them selected questions from those they prepared to write their answers individually in class.

You should expect a better quality answer.

back to top


Cumulative tests versus testing on material separately

As you plan your courses for next semester, include some cumulative testing opportunities, beside just the final. Explain that you will be taking a few major concepts from previous sections of the course on each test. You can decide which concepts are the most important by asking what should your students remember in a year or two. You might tell them which concepts you consider to be major, perhaps have a longer list than what you will actually ask about. This encourages the students to review or even relearn important material. This promotes long-term learning of the content.

This idea comes from Terry Dole's 2001 book Learner-centered teaching, published by Stylus.

back to top


© 2016 University of the Sciences in Philadelphia • 600 South 43rd Street • Philadelphia, PA 19104 • 215.596.8800