Monday, April 16, 2007

Final Exam Week

Final exams have started at the University of Calgary. There are a few things that can tell you this. The first thing I noticed this morning was that the parking lot (the cheap one on the edge of campus by Scurfield Hall) was full, even though it was only 8 o'clock in the morning. Secondly, when I went to get my omelet and cheese bagel in the social sciences building, there were students everywhere studying. There were also quite a few students sleeping on the benches. I think some of them must have been there all night. I even bumped into some of my own students when I came back to the Education Tower, but I think I freaked them out because I told them that it was too late to learn anything for the exam. They just looked at me in horror and fear. Ooops, I guess there is no such thing as a sense of humour before final exams :-)

I think part of the fun of going to university are midterms and finals. They really help you bond with your classmates, and it gives you a real sense of being a student. I remember hanging out with my friends, madly trying to study. I even remember we would look for places to study all night on campus, and then at about 5 am we would go to Denny's for "Moons Over My Hammy" and fourteen cups of coffee so that we would be ready for our 8:00 am exams. Although it may have seemed like hell at the time, whenever I bump into friends from university we always look back sort of nostalgically to the days when we were students. Now, when I talk to my friends it seems like life for a lot of them is only about mortgages and stressful jobs that are crushing their souls (myself excepted . . . my soul hasn't been crushed, yet!)

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say to my students is ENJOY exam week. Study with your friends and eat pizza every night while drinking a six pack of pepsi cola. When you look back at all of this, it will be with fondness :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Case of the Disappearing Scott . . .

Hello all . . . it's almost exam week! Eeep! I know that some of the students are freaking out, but I hope they are able to relax a bit before the exams. There is an optimum level of freaking out . . . you need to freak out just enough to drive you to study for the exams, but you don't want to freak out so much that you make yourself sick, and you can't perform at your best during exam time. There is a fine line between enough and too much!

I wonder if any of my students have ever taken a moment to think about where these exams actually come from. What I do in LEAP 4 is I take a survey of all of the reading we have done in the text book. I look at how long they are and how difficult they are. In order to do that, I use the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test ( That gives me a rough idea of what grade level a test is at. Once I have had a look at the type of readings the students have been doing, I then survey the tasks that they have been doing with those readings. After that, I match those readings and tasks to the Canadian Language Benchmarks (, I'm looking at CLB 8 and 9) and the course objectives for LEAP 4. Now I know what I am looking for and what I need to be testing. Next comes the hard part. I have to find a text. Now I do an exhaustive search looking for readings that are of the appropriate length, difficulty and topic. I also try to look for something Canadian. Once I find some articles, I share them with my fellow teachers to get their imput. After we decide which article to go with, I then begin to develop the test. In order to do that, first I re-write some of the sections / sentences of the article in order to make them more accessible. I then look at the vocabulary and choose academic words that the students should be able to guess from context. Then I pick and choose tasks from the textbooks and apply them to the reading in the text. As you can see, there should be no surprises on the final exam. The tasks all mirror tasks the students will have done in class (or at least, should have done - but they are in the textbook, so it is the responsibility of the student to study the textbook and be familiar with all of the tasks). Now I create the exam. Once that is done, I pass on an answer key and a good copy to the other teachers for their input. They come up with their feedback, and I adjust the final exam as necessary. This entire process takes about 6 - 10 hours. Crazy stuff, eh? And it's not over yet, once the students have finished the exam, I then have to check it over again and see if it worked, but that is a story for another blog . . . . . .

Study hard :-)