A common complaint from students is that midterm and final exams do not always test the kinds of knowledge that is asked for in homework or quizzes or presented in lectures. Whether this perception in regards to summative assessments is accurate or not, it's still an excellent starting point for talking about what you are testing when you give a final exam. The worst final exams can seem unfocused, determined to test everything or random things. The best final exams are learning moments which assess both theoretical as well as practical knowledge.
If you presented a set of course goals and objectives to your students on your syllabus, you're way ahead of the game, because that means you've thought through what is important to you for a particular class. The very simplest procedure then is to develop an exam that will demonstrate whether students have achieved these objectives.
Moving students to mastery of core principles in biotechnology through improved student learning and retention has always been the goal of both formative and summative assessments. In order to achieve this goal I must be certain that all assessments, especially summative assessments such as the Final Exam, are aligned with important learning objectives and standards. Three questions I pose as I am designing a summative assessment, unit or lesson are:
Why am I teaching this?
What are the key concepts and scientific ideas in this lesson or unit?
How will I know that they have learned (mastered) these key concepts or scientific ideas?
STRATEGY #1 - Streamline the Curriculum Opting for Depth over Breadth
I have certainly been guilty of selecting curricula which fails to support the deep understanding I crave for my students because the content being presented contains too many disconnected facts in a short period of time. Therefore the types of assessments administered to my students reinforced wrote memorization rather than the application or extension of the knowledge students possess.
STRATEGY #2 - Identify Big Ideas, Key Concepts and Core Skills
Just as the classroom science instruction that my students and I enjoy should focus on core science concepts, so should the assessments students are given to determine their level of mastery.
STRATEGY #3 - How Do I Know What They Know? (Assessment Design)
Designing effective assessments that yield reliable data is hard work! In a thoughtful analysis of the evolution of my summative assessment practice, I have noticed that the choices I make in terms of the types of questions I believe are most likely to elicit a demonstration of mastery of core knowledge and practical skills from students has changed dramatically. Instead of relying on factoid, recall questions I have opted for application questions that give students an opportunity to use the knowledge they have gained in novel ways.