The Fine Line

on Tuesday, 2 March 2010
Creating a test is extremely difficult.

It's not difficult if you're not concerned about the level of students. It's not difficult seeing that you can find a lot of examples online and even in workbooks. It's not about the resources that is the most difficult.

It is the fact that you have 2 extremes in proficiencies amongst your school students.

At one end, you have students who are the creme ala creme in your English classes and the other is filled with students who think English is spelled Bahasa Inglesh.

How do you find something in between? How do you create an internal exam that really reflects the true competency of both extremes?

Hence, I try to find the right questions for the Form 4 formative assessment for March.

There isn't one definite way to do it. What I did was to find an article that I thought would really encourage both sides to read. Both sides should be extremely interested in the topic and the number of new or uncommon words are kept at a controlled level. In this case, the questions pertaining to the topic has to be relevant as well to the SPM format. There is indeed some difficulty in terms of the language concerned, which I try to rectify with a helpful glossary of definitions. If a student is competent enough, he can choose to ignore it whereas a weak student would find this most helpful.

However, I also found that it is important to not make the definitions complicated. Although simplifying the descriptions might not truly explain the true meaning of the word, it is more important that the student who is referring to it benefits from it for the sake of comprehending the text.

For example: the word congregate can be defined as to gather at one place. Though the definition seems simple, students who are weak might not know the word gather which then completely causes the glossary to be unhelpful. A more simplified version would be to group together in one place. Students are more familiar with the words group and together. This might not be simpler in terms of the number of words, but the description becomes clearer for a weaker student.

Next, structured questions should not require students to divulge too much content knowledge about the text. English is a subject where we try to encourage the usage of the language. Content knowledge is merely there to see if students can utilise it in their speaking or writing skills. Of course, good content knowledge should be awarded but it is not the fault of students to not know a lot about something specific i.e. cloning.

Therefore, good subjective questions to cater for both extremes are opinionated questions. Getting students to speak their mind is something that both extremes can do but at different levels. Good students will of course get a lot of facts and illustrate their minds very systematically and creatively. Weaker students would use their current vocabulary to try to access their native language thoughts. Due to it being opinionated in nature, it is at least relevant for students to relay certain things in their lives that they always explain in English. Even if it were something a little bit off their comfort zone, weaker students can always pass a general opinion. For example:

For the question,
In your opinion, is caning students helpful to discipline them?

Weaker students might answer with a simple,

Yes. This is because students are very naughty.
No. This is because students might get hurt.

This encourages them to write out basic sentences that express their opinions. Both weak and high proficiency students can benefit from questions like these.

Good luck to the Form 4 students. I tried my best.


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