Buy that special someone an AP Physics prep book, now with 180 five-minute quizzes aligned with the exam: 5 Steps to a 5 AP Physics 1

Visit Burrito Girl's handmade ceramics shop, The Muddy Rabbit: Yarn bowls, tea sets, dinner ware...

12 July 2015

Do NOT allow questions during tests... repost

Never even allow a student to ask a question during a test or quiz.  This is perhaps the most important piece of teaching advice I can give.  

I am utterly convinced that your school could raise your SAT scores by 20 points across the board, and your AP math/science scores by a third of a grade, merely if your math and science departments never allowed questions during tests.

It is a dirty little secret that no one ever discusses... so many teachers talk their students through difficult problems.  No wonder those students struggle when they're faced with standardized tests, when their friendly lifeline is taken away.

I hear people argue with me, saying that they answer questions on tests because they want to help the students succeed.  Well, so do I -- and I take offense to the ridiculous connection that refusing to answer test questions equates to not caring about students.  I want my students to succeed over the time frame of their physics course.  That doesn't mean they must ace every individual test or quiz.  It is crucial that we allow our students to make mistakes, and then to learn from those mistakes.  I judge my success by how well students perform at year's end, not by whether one student got one question right on one test.

Here is the critical post explaining my approach, including some help with the issue that I know many of you already brought up, that "I could never get away with this at my school."  :-)


  1. All well and good for standardized tests. How about a teacher made one that has a mistake in it?

  2. Good question. Firstly, I recommend ALWAYS using externally-vetted questions, such as New York Regents questions, AP or SAT 2 questions, or at least questions that have appeared in published sources. This by itself will minimize mistakes. Then proofread mercilessly.

    See the linked post for the thorough answer -- train students what to do. In the rare occasion where there's a mistake, students should communicate that mistake in writing. I'll deal with the "mistake" later. If you allow students to ask questions, then they'll point out "mistakes" like "you didn't give us the time it took for the ball to travel the 2.0 m horizontally, so I can't find its horizontal speed." Well, the whole point of the problem might have been to recognize that vertical kinematics gives that time, which can then be used to find the horizontal speed. Well over 90% of the time the "mistakes" students point out are not mistakes at all.

    And, just as is done on the authentic AP or Regents exams, if there's truly a mistake, I'll throw out the question, or give credit for a wide variety of answers. This happens once every couple of years. If it happens much more often, then the solution is to proofread tests more carefully, not to allow students to ask questions.

  3. I allow questions. Very few and for most I say "can't answer that" or I'll say the answer will cost you X number points. I have students that speak English as a 2nd language and they will ask what a word means. Sometimes I tell them sometimes not. If the word was used in the homework or labs or discussion then the answer is no.