Editorial: Take-Home Tests: A More Effective Evaluation

As students in the year 2020, we have had a radically different learning experience to those in years past.

As students in the year 2020, we have had a radically different learning experience to those in years past. Many classes have adopted new platforms like OneNote and Padlet while the Zoom breakout room has become a fixture of our day-to-day. We might malign the awkwardness of a virtual Harkness discussion, but a silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on our learning is that it has undoubtedly afforded us an opportunity to reevaluate our learning priorities and the way in which our curriculum operates, making some classroom staples obsolete or less applicable to our current situation, the main one being sit-down, in-classroom tests.

It’s difficult to enjoy the process of sitting still for an hour to tackle question after question, but previously, students accepted the necessity of it. In order to evaluate our progress and information retention, we recognize that sit-down tests are sometimes necessary to track our learning. Yet, most sit-down tests have the unique quality of being both stressful and mundane. Except for the rare open-note exam, our resources are limited, so performance often relies on knowing specific definitions or memorizing a handful of properties. Through two terms of predominantly virtual learning, many teachers have shifted away from sit-down assessments, opting to give students take-home tests instead. Perhaps, our new, increased exposure to such means of evaluating our learning teaches us a valuable lesson: The take-home test has merit beyond a virtual learning environment and it should be adopted more frequently when we return to campus in a post-pandemic world.

We often misinterpret the potential of a take-home test. Many of us think of them to be duplicates of our regular assessments, where the answers to questions can often be found online. Moreover, since students have uninhibited access to all resources such as class notes, textbooks, and sometimes the internet, many Lawrentians would not hesitate to exceed an unenforceable time limit in pursuit of a good score. Those qualifications mean that the take-home test should not ask simple, Google-able questions. Instead, a successful take-home test will challenge students to apply their learning to new terrain, focusing on processes and inferences based on a set of given information. For instance, a math test that takes a spin on a seemingly familiar graph is not a trick, but really an extension of a known concept. Or, picture a language essay that would’ve previously been written in class that requires a small amount of research, providing an opportunity for some individual creativity. In comparison with the sit-down test, the take-home format allows us to more thoroughly develop and assess our critical thinking than an in-person, hour-long exam would. Nevertheless, we are not arguing that take-home tests should replace sit-down assessments, but simply that we should reconsider the merit of the latter.

A properly crafted take-home test looks something like this: a multi-part question or short series of questions that asks students to display a thought process or complex equation in order to reach a conclusion similar to, but not identical, to what one may have previously encountered. Earning an exceptional grade would require an in-depth understanding of the material and an ability to expand upon its components, displaying some creative problem solving or an intense grappling with the question in the process. That ideal and the sit-down, closed-note test are not mutually exclusive, but the take-home offers a greater chance of achieving the ideal. Not all sit-downs prioritize the regurgitation of memorized information over application, but if the objective of an assessment is to gauge a student’s ability to make complex applications of the knowledge gained over a unit, then the take-home test possesses undeniable potential in allowing teachers to achieve that goal.

Ultimately, if we want to maximize the learning process during a virtual term and in a post-pandemic world, teachers should reconsider the necessity of sit-down tests and contemplate recalibrating their assessments to fit the take-home mold. This model presents heightened potential to more effectively evaluate students and to invigorate a stale fixture of a bygone era.

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