Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No time to think - the IB way of examination

This is an example of a recent test (with correct answers attached) given to my senior class. The time limit was 60 minutes.
Here's the problem: while I have some liberty in designing the test, I am preparing the students for a final examination and so far I've found it easiest to choose questions and time limits from previous IB final exams. 
The students, of course, hate the extreme time pressure. I don't like it either. When at university, my exams were 5 hours long and 6 questions large. Sometimes I left after 1 hour, sometimes after 5 hours, and more often than not I was able to use that extra amount of time available to dig deep enough in memory to find what I needed. Sometimes I re-derived formulas and above all, the type of thinking I engaged in during the extra hours was a good learning experience and added to my understanding of the topics. 

So on one hand I'm preparing students for time-pressured examinations, and want to give them practice in such settings. On the other hand, the exams are frustrating, very procedure-oriented, and not especially conducive to learning. At this point I'm welcoming any suggestions on how to proceed. 


  1. I found the IB exams were basically impossible if you didn't know what you were doing (because of the time crunch). I'm not sure there's much point going with timed exams until they've demonstrated basic proficiency.

    You could always tell your students, "we'll start off ignoring the time limits. Once you've all hit your targets, we'll bring the time back again."

    Though in that case, I'd be wary of differentiation. I taught a Studies class a couple of years ago, and you get everyone from the I-hate-maths crowd to the "actually amazing but don't need another higher course" group. But it's easy enough to give some people more/tougher questions than others.

  2. Huh, Alex, that's an interesting idea. So first assessments of basic proficiency, then time-crunch exams. How do/did you work this into class-work and homework? What would you do if half the class shows proficiency and the other half doesn't?

  3. Would it work to have everybody work on this for a timed hour, checkpoint it, and then let them take it away and work on it for as long as it takes until it's done? I think I'd want to have a copy of what the students had done after 1 hour, but not actually mark it at that point. Then in the end, they get feedback of the form "after 1 hour you had scored X points; with unlimited time, you scored Y points". You could make some fun challenging problems available for those who'd done the whole thing in an hour, although you probably wouldn't want to make those compulsory.

  4. Perdita, sorry for the late reply...
    While that sounds like it would help the students it also sounds like a lot of extra work. I don't know. Maybe if I had them mark their own papers for the unlimited time thing. Maybe I'll try it next time.