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.