Teaching Methods

Sneak Peak to Reduce Test Anxiety

Have you ever looked at the gender discrepancies on those who score a 5 on the AP Physics 1 exam? It’s nearly a 3-1 ratio!

“Surely not MY students” I thought. “I’m a female teacher AND I’m super aware of the issues around female performance in the physics classroom”

I checked my data. The same patterns persist.

So I dug a little deeper. I knew that I had female students who were on or above the playing field of some of my male students. What was going on that it was so hard for my female students to earn 5’s?

What I realized was it was their performance on the multiple choice.

Then 2020 offered an incredible opportunity. I could test my hypothesis by pulling the national data when AP had no multiple choice on the exam.

Guess what happened? The gaps were reduced.

In my college experience the classes I recall learning the most were the ones where exams were not “gotchas” but opportunities to deepen our understanding of the material. I had one teacher give legit take-home exams. It was nice, but not exactly a learning opportunity.

The next professor did something different. He gave us twice as many problems as would be on the exam a week ahead. We got together as a group and worked all of the problems over the week. The exam was “open annotated textbook” and the questions were ever so slightly different from the originals. The course was Physics 470 – subatomic physics. It’s the class I learned the most in.

The third professor who did something similar orally read us the exam the week before. He would leave out important details or specifics. “You have a circuit that looks like this… you will need to find the potential across two of the nodes” I also learned a lot in that course.

Taking all of these things into consideration, I’ve really modified the way I approach unit exams in my class. I don’t do the same thing each time, and I do offer the exams in a more “traditional” format as we start out. However, as we progress I become more flexible in my practices to allow students more learning opportunities.

One of these strategies is I give students the entire test the day before the test.

But won’t they memorize the answers?

Isn’t that cheating?

How do you know it’s really their work?

Simple! I take off the part of the question that says “determine the _______”.

What do I mean by that? Here’s an example problem:

Now let me make this clear: students are expected to stow away all electronic devices before we begin so there’s no photos or google searches. Additionally, students are only allowed to use whiteboards. No paper. Nothing leaves the room.

Here’s another example

At first students are probably more stressed. The questions could be ANYTHING! The only thing students CAN do is EVERYTHING I want them to do! They have to draw force diagrams! Make graphs! Write out expressions for sum of torque and sum of forces. They have to consider all of the possibilities. And this is exactly what they need.

And the results?

Well… my rotation test is not a disaster. Students generally perform where they normally perform but with one HUGE difference: the students to typically underperform perform at a level equal to the work they do in class outside of a testing environment. When these students can see they can earn a high grade, they start to view themselves as a person who can do physics. When they view themselves as a person who can do physics they are ready to do more physics.

6 thoughts on “Sneak Peak to Reduce Test Anxiety

  1. Hola! estuve leyendo tu Blog desde Uruguay, tengo una consulta respecto ¿Cómo haces para que sólo utilicen las pizarras? si entendí correctamente pueden trabajar en grupos con sus compañeros con las pizarras tratando de resolver la situación pero no se llevarán nada registrado en papel y/o celular por ejemplo. ¿Cómo les pides que dejen fuera todos los dispositivos, papeles y lápices? Aquí, en Uruguay en la educación pública los estudiantes pueden ingresar a la clase con celulares y demás, por eso consulto sobre la metodología.

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    1. Cuando los alumnos entran en el aula, les pido que metan sus teléfonos y ordenadores en sus bolsas y los guarden bajo sus pupitres antes de distribuir las preguntas. A continuación, los alumnos pasan el periodo de clase trabajando los problemas en las pizarras blancas durante el periodo de clase.

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  2. Hola! estuve leyendo tu Blog desde Uruguay, tengo una consulta respecto ¿Cómo haces para que sólo utilicen las pizarras? si entendí correctamente pueden trabajar en grupos con sus compañeros con las pizarras tratando de resolver la situación pero no se llevarán nada registrado en papel y/o celular por ejemplo. ¿Cómo les pides que dejen fuera todos los dispositivos, papeles y lápices? Aquí, en Uruguay en la educación pública los estudiantes pueden ingresar a la clase con celulares y demás, por eso consulto sobre la metodología

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  3. Very interesting. Two questions:

    1. Do you worry about this leaving them underprepared for the AP Test, where they definitely won’t have the ability to preview anything? I suppose as long as you regularly give them problems with novel situations outside of the test, (and they take them seriously,) then that’s not really an issue.

    2. You mentioned this specifically being about MC Questions. The examples you gave are from old FRQs (if I remember correctly). Do you think that you would see the same improvements if you only did this for the MCQs?

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    1. One example was MC one was FRQ. I actually prefer this specifically for the MC because students tend to not consider all of the layers in those items and rather start hunting for the correct answer or eliminating answers. We need them to be problem solvers. We need them to view themselves as people who do physics so they have the rightly earned confidence walking in to the exam on exam day. Our goals as so much more than a score on a single day. However, my students score 5’s at double and triple the national average, and I’ve seen my overall pass rates increase over the years as I’ve implemented these practices. I know I’m doing everything I can to best prepare them.

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