A note about cramming for tests

The Teaching Professor has a short note about students cramming for exams. The article talks about how you should deal with students cramming for exams. It includes the correct answer: you shouldn't do anything accept maybe change your tests.

What is the purpose of a test? It is some way to evaluate what a student has mastered. If a student can "master" something by spending a couple of hours right before the exam, is it really worth mastering? The real problem is that many tests seem to focus on recall type information. These are (in my humble opinion) mostly pointless. What does it say about a student if they can memorize something for a short time? There was a study or article somewhere that said if you want to see if a student has really memorized something (which can be important for some cases), you would have to give unannounced tests.

In physics, we are sort of lucky. Our tests and evaluations by the very nature of physics is not recall type tests. It is very easy to make problems that require students to think. Of course just because they do well on the test does not mean they won't have conceptual difficulties. The best example of this is the use of the Force Concept Inventory. It was shown in several cases that even students that performed well on tests often did poorly on this conceptual inventory.

This all goes back to what college is and should be about. If it is just jumping through some hoops and doing some other silly things, what is the point?

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A good test of a test (and the tester) is that it may be given open book or at least with one 8.5x11" cheat sheet (both sides). Education should be more than filling heads with resources and knowledge - it should imbue understanding and ability. Do students know what they know?

Organic chemistry demands any undistorted sp3 tetrahedral carbon atom bearing four different substituents (isotopes or an unbonded orbital qualify) is chiral. The elegant extra points question: Said carbon atom bears four rigorously identical substitutents and is chiral. Provide a general example [there are at least two tactics in an obvious strategy] and the structure of a specific example.

Any specific example evades all chiral nomenclature rules. Failures of theory must be addressed. Do testers know what they know?