Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A test of pre-requisite knowledge and skills

Today I gave my PHYS4030 Condensed Matter Physics students a Pre-test, a 50 minute exam to test whether they have some of the background knowledge and skills I consider necessary for the course.

I am pretty happy with the test I came up with as it tested some basic skills as well as knowledge. But I am sure it can be improved.
I welcome comments on it and examples of alternatives.

I marked the exams and gave them back to the students. I did not keep a record of the marks and they don't count at all for the final grade.
In case some students felt they did poorly they can take the exam home, do some review, and then submit a new set of answers I will mark.

Most of the marks were in the 50-85% range, which suggests to me the test was set at about the right level. Although, of course, I really wish they were all scoring above 80%.

A few random thoughts:

1. I think this exercise also has value as a bit of a reality check and wake-up call at the beginning of the semester. It reminds students that they are going to have to do an exam in the subject. They are also going to need a lot of stuff they may have forgotten or should have mastered in the past. Normally, some students don't get the wake up call until the mid-semester exam.

2. It helps students get familiar [in a non-threatening context] with the kind of exams I set and how I mark them.

3. As I have posted before I still find it disturbing that there are final year undergrads who struggle with basic things such as
  • working with physical units
  • sketching graphs
  • basic calculus and analysis
  • interpreting a graph of experimental data 
4. If students fail the test the message should be clear: either drop the course or expect to do an extra-ordinary amount of work to catch up. Otherwise, you are going to fail. Don't say you were not warned.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ross, thanks for giving us the pretest.
    It was useful in that we got to refamiliarise ourselves with the thinking processes we've learnt and what a test is like.
    A bit of a refresher on notation/vocab/style as well.

    Suppose it's also a little taste of what's to come.
    Should be an interesting semester ahead!