A Test on the First Day of Class

This semester, I am teaching Advanced Legal Research.  As I was thinking about what to go over on my first day of class, I remembered one class in the past where the instructor gave a “pre-test”.  While I would not use many of that professor’s tactics, I decided that a mandatory, but ungraded pre-test was a good idea for several reasons:

1.       Our first year legal research and writing classes do not follow a uniform curriculum, so the students had different learning experiences

2.       As one of my students put it, “It has been two years since I took research”

3.       I need to know what material needs to be covered in class

And so, I started creating a test in TWEN.  I created 20 questions at different difficulty levels.  Some I did not expect many students to know, even with multiple choice options, such as what does HR stand for in HR 384.  Others, I expected everyone to know, such as what does “410” stand for in the citation 410 U.S. 113.  After finishing my question bank, I thought that the majority of the questions should be able to be answered by the average 3L.

On the first day of class, I gave the students 15 minutes to complete the quiz and then we went over the results.  Afterwards, I received a lot of worried feedback from the students that they did not know many of the answers.  I also went through the questions at home, and while not surprised, I was a bit dismayed at the results.  One person only answered 3 of the 20 questions correctly, and the highest grade was 14 out of 20.  The average grade was 9 – 10 correct answers out of 20.

Since drop add was not yet over, I thought that my test may have scared some of the students away.  Surprisingly, it did scare my students, but it scared them into staying in the class.

I will definitely be using a pre-test again.  It gave me a good feel for what the students know, but it also was a good learning tool for the students in that it taught them that there is quite a bit that they have yet to learn, even if they are graduating in 4 months.  I do not know if the test impacted this, but all fifteen of my students come to class with the desire to learn and become better researchers.

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3 Responses to A Test on the First Day of Class

  1. KBrown says:

    You may want to think about submiting your pretest to the Teachin-Kit

  2. Helen says:

    The NY Times published news about research in the journal Science that showed students learn better from taking tests than from diagramming new information or over studying it, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?src=me&ref=science. I think it would be a good idea to submit your test for the Teach-in Kit too.

  3. Claudia Cook says:

    Interesting if troubling article. I work in a county law library. I am thinking that your test might be easily converted to a cheat sheet for our pro pers and even, from your results, for new attorneys. Would you be willing to share your test questions?

    Thanks so much.

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