Why we need selective question testing

Shae Slaughter

Exam week is drawing near, and for most students, that means “binge” studying in an effort to absorb all of the material taught from each and every one of their classes. Yikes. All of that material can be pretty overwhelming, especially if the corresponding final exams are cumulative. It’s hard, from my experience, to know which areas to focus on. For this reason, I advocate for what I call “selective question testing.”

I’ve taken my fair share of exams over the years. I’ve had papers, short response, long response, multiple choice, true and false, and everything in between. The one type of test I’ve had that I think is most beneficial is the selective question testing that I mentioned previously. To understand selective question testing, imagine that you are provided with a certain number of questions, let’s say 10, but you must only answer some of them, let’s say seven. Simply put, you get to select the questions you answer.

I’ve had a few professors use this tactic, and it honestly seems to be the most fair form of testing I’ve encountered. Even if I read every page I was assigned over the course of the semester, attended every lecture and reviewed my notes, chances are that I won’t remember all of the information placed on a normal test. I will have one topic resonate with me more than another. For that reason, it seems unfair to test students on every topic in the book, assuming that they absorbed each and every chapter equally.

Most academic professionals have an area of specialty, and I would argue that a lot of undergraduate students end up that way as well. I am an English major and a political science minor, but I am far more interested in post-1800s novels and international human rights than I am with grammar and congressional voting. Is it really a wonder that I would absorb the subjects that I like more fully?

I’m not saying that students deserve a free pass on learning material they aren’t passionate about because general education is important. However, I do think it’s important to test someone on an area they can succeed in. Selective question testing allows for this. To pass these tests, you still need to know the majority of the coursework, but you won’t be penalized for forgetting a vocabulary word mentioned only twice in chapter seven of your textbook. 

Nothing is more frustrating than trying your hardest, sitting down on exam day and blanking on a few questions, automatically making your grad drop. This is why so many students have test anxiety. They are afraid of not remembering every single answer to every single question. 

So, I advocate for encouraging students to pursue and master their strengths rather than expecting them to try to remember every single concept discussed. Give them some choice on an exam, professors, and you’ll see where each student really shines.