Taking TestsPart 2: How Do Tests Work? - Total Testing Education

Taking Tests
Part 2: How Do Tests Work?

In this 3 part series, we’re taking a look at tests. In part 1, we discussed how to effectively prepare for tests. Today we’re looking at how tests are written and how they’re graded. Next week in part 3 we’ll get practical with some test-taking tips.

Before you rush to take your test, we want to share a little background of how tests are written, what they are looking for, and how that will affect your answers. This is a real eye-opener and may change how you take tests for life – no joke. This applies to long-form tests, not multiple-choice tests, so if you will only be taking multiple-choice tests, you can skip this section entirely.

Now, if you are taking a full paper, or long-form exam, where you have to write many lines of answers and explanation, we’re going to share the secret of how and why long, multipart questions are written, and why, and hence how they are scored.

Let’s say that you have a 3 part question:

Part 1 – supply some information that you are supposed to remember from the study materials
Part 2 – now take the information from part 1 and, for example, calculate something from it.
Part 3 – finally, comment on the answers from part 2

So let’s say you answer the first part wrong, you say 25 instead of 45. That means that the calculations in part 2 will yield the wrong answer, and the comments in part 3 will also be inaccurate.

Do you think that the examiner wanted you to get no points in parts 2 and 3 because you answered part 1 incorrectly? In some cases, you may be right, but in most that was not the point. Here’s the big secret…

The examiner wants to see:

In part 1 – can you remember or did you learn the information you were asked?
In part 2 – the examiner wants to know if you can perform the calculation.
In part 3 – the examiner wants to know if you can make an observation about the results of a calculation like that in part 2.

It makes no sense if you’ve shown that you know how to perform the calculation in part 2, that you should get no points – you’ve done what the examiner asked. And if you have shown how to interpret the answers to part 2 correctly – you did what the examiner wanted -so you should get points there too.

Examiners need to write and grade long contextual test questions, to see if you know, in this case, 3 different things – the information, the calculation and in the inference. But the examiner needs a method to allow you to get points for parts 2 and 3, even if you get part 1 wrong. They can use a rule called the error carried through rule. That means, that if you get an error in part 1, you don’t continue to lose points because it is generating incorrect answers in later sections. Hence, the error is carried through the rest of the question, and not treated like a new error in every section.

In our example, if you answer part 1 incorrectly – then you will lose the mark for part 1.

However, if you then take the wrong answer from part 1 and correctly use it in part 2 then you have shown that you can work the calculation in part 2. Even though you ended up with the wrong answer to part 2, you will get the points as you showed that you know how to do the calculation – and that’s what is being tested in part 2. So you only lose points once for getting part 1 incorrect, you don’t lose points again in part 2, and 3.

That is the error carried through rule in action.

Next time, in the final part of the series, we’ll give you some more practical advice to use during your test.

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