Sound Unit Test

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Students will demonstrate mastery of sound.

Big Idea

Students shine today when they take the sound unit test.


Students have developed an understanding of sound waves, so the goal today is to get students to showcase that knowledge (HS-PS4-1). The design of my test is meant to prepare students for the AP Physics 1 exam with quantitative and qualitative questions that are representative of the difficulty level on the AP exam. We've also covered a significant amount of material since our last test rather quickly, and I want to ensure students have mastered the characteristics of sound waves. So after students are settled, they immediately start the exam, which requires them to create responses, justify answers with computations, and qualitatively explain concepts (SP5 & SP8).

Test Procedures

5 minutes

As students come into the room to take their test, I direct them to look at the screen at the front of the classroom. The screen is displaying their new seats for today, and I've created the new seating chart ahead of time using a random seating chart generator. I used this generator so that I'm not biased in where students are placed and to keep students from relying on their neighbor for answers (also known as cheating).

Once students are seated in their new seats, I clearly go through my rules for tests taken in the classroom, which students were given in print at the start of the year. I emphasize that students should not use any outside resources, are only allowed the approved materials, must turn off all electronic devices, and cannot leave the room for any reason at any time. I also inform the students that per our school handbook, failure to meet these requirements will result in a zero on the exam and a disciplinary referral.  

Before I pass out the exam, equation sheet, and a blank piece of scratch paper, I give the students one more minute to adjust and organize themselves.

Sound Test

45 minutes

The classroom is absolutely silent while students take their test on sound waves, as I really try to simulate the environment that students will experience when taking the AP Physics 1 exam. This means I won't answer many questions during the testing process and students are only allowed to use approved materials (listed in the Test Procedures, above). While students are testing, I alternate between sitting at the front of the room and walking around the room checking to ensure students aren't cheating.

I've specifically designed the test so that it represents the AP Physics 1 exam in level of difficulty and content. This test has slightly more short answer questions, although there are enough multiple choice questions for me to accurately assess students' understanding of sound waves. Students are asked to apply the speed of sound equation, intensity level conversions, standing wave equations, and the Doppler Effect equation. The test also asks students some conceptual questions that force students to describe sound waves and being longitudinal.

Most of my tests are formatted to reflect the organization of the AP Physics 1 test, with multiple choice questions followed by short answer questions. In this test, the multiple choice questions are amid short answer questions. I choose to change the format of this test because many of my students seem to struggle with conceptual, multiple choice questions. My hope is that with giving students some short answer questions to build their confidence first, they are better able to tackle the multiple choice questions.

Sound Test Collection, Grading, & Communication

When students finish their test they need to bring the test, the scratch paper, and the equation sheet to the front of the room. I collect everything to ensure that students aren't writing any notes down to share with other classes. Even after they have finished, I do not allow students access to their bags, electronics, or the restroom. The point of this rigidity is to make sure that each student has a fair opportunity to test in the same, quiet conditions.

It is always my goal to grade tests and post grades within 24 hours. Because we move at such a fast pace in this AP course, I want my students to have a clear understanding of how they are doing before we move onward to a new unit. For this particular test, I look at if the change in format (dispersing the multiple choice questions instead of putting them first) has any impact on student success. There does not seem to be any benefit to changing the test format, as almost all students earn a score on this test similar to scores earned on past tests.

Our science department policy is that a test cannot be returned for students to keep, so they must request a time to meet with me before or after school if they'd like to see and review their exam. This one-on-one time is a nice opportunity to discuss mistakes, trends that I noticed on their exam, and celebrate their success of finishing an AP Physics 1 exam!  

Testing also creates a great opportunity for me to reach out to parents. As I'm grading the exams I put aside any exams that earned an A; I contact the guardians of these students so that they know how proud I am of their awesome efforts. I also put aside any exams that didn't do so well, as it's important that parents be notified of sub-par progress in the course. It takes me only a few minutes to send out an email, as I already have some form letters prepared for these situations. Finally, any students that did much better or much worse than their "individual normal" also get noted. I contact these parents to either congratulate an improved effort or voice my concerns.