Exams are HARD

October 12, 2004

I have found that one of the hardest parts of teaching, that is to say something that I have difficulty doing well, is writing an exam.

My exam questions tend to be both overlong and imprecise. I went and re-read my midterm from Western Civ and just cringed when I looked at it.

I think I write better exams for US1, if only because I have taught it more often and so have a better stable to fill in from. I ask the kids to submit exam questions, then I revise those into better questions and give the kids 6 essay questions to prepare. Two of those go on the midterm, and they have to write one essay.

The advantage to this approach is that it guides their studying, encouraging them to review the things that I think are important. It also provides a reality check for me. Their suggestions always overemphasize the last two classes before the exam - recent memory can be compelling - but their suggestions also help me see what they have been getting out of the class. If I get a lot of questions about, say, immigration then I know that the kids are keeping track of immigration as a social, cultural, and political event around the turn of the twentieth century.

Below the fold I put the study questions from URU. SSU gets their study questions tomorrow, and I already know that they will be getting a very different exam.

I drew cards to pick the question - randomizing the choice is the only way to keep both me and the kids honest. Otherwise I will include a question that I have no intention of asking, just to make them study, and they will read me and figure out what I will really ask.

1) Imagine that John Winthrop was asked to comment on the United States Constitution. What would he like about it? What would he dislike?

2) New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Chesapeake formed three distinctive regions within the British Empire. Briefly describe each as they were at the end of the 17th century. Be sure to mention land usage, family structure, religious settlement, and political patterns for each.

3) What had more impact on 18th-century America, the Great Awakening or the Enlightenment?

4) The Indians in the Iroquois Confederacy had a long history of working with European colonists. But, by the end of the 18th century the Iroquois and the Continental Congress were at war. Briefly describe interactions between Iroquois and Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. At what point did the conflict between Iroquois and the coastal colonies become inevitable?

5) John Adams claimed that "The real American Revolution took place in the hearts of the American people long before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord." The textbook suggests that the real revolution came through social changes during the military conflict. What do you see as the "real American revolution" and when did it take place?

6) Compare and contrast slavery among Northern Woodland Indians, West Africans, Caribbean sugar planters, and Chesapeake tobacco farmers.

Posted by Red Ted at October 12, 2004 11:34 AM | TrackBack