Rip me apart, please?

So everyone talks about and around assessments, but we rarely actually talk directly at them. Concretely. (By the way, I am using “assessments” to mean tests/exams/quizzes.)

Partly because the abstraction of assessing is so much more fun to bandy about than actually looking at assessments. Partly because some of us probably don’t want our assessments floating around in the electronic ether. Partly because assessments as so context dependent — on what you’ve been teaching you’re kids, and where you’re kids are at. And partly because we probably think our assessments all pretty much look the same.

Personally, I’m not as thoughtful about writing exams as some of my colleagues. I see them carefully construct questions, talk about what skills are getting over and under assessed, and overall, go through their exam with a fine tooth comb. I create mine with more general brush strokes. I never really learned how to write an exam.

I figured if people are interested in having a conversation about what a good exam looks like, I’d jump start it here by including a copy of my latest Algebra II assessment.

I’d like you to rip it apart, with suggestions big and small. From spacing and font issues to wording issues to content issues. Or if you’d just like to throw down your process for writing assessments, or types of questions you really like (e.g. “find the mistake!”), or things you try to avoid, do that!

If you want a little more context for my particular assessment, you can see the “topic list” that I gave my students here.



  1. If that’s a quiz, I’d hate to see how long your tests are.

    I don’t see any problems though. For my logarithm graphing-by-hand questions I have a basic logarithm graph they can use as reference to do all the shifting, but I don’t see a problem with your way. (Also, your bonus is my required question, but I presume you are just sequencing your way up to equations.)

  2. First thought: six pages?
    Second thought: SIX pages?!?!
    Third thought: Holy crap, SIX PAGES?!?!?!?

    I assume you do not have a copy limit or fee at your school? Jealous!

    Also, I would rather have more separate graphing questions (one negative, one shifted, and maybe one shifted & negative) rather than one big multi-step one. Easier for me to grade and give partial credit and to see what they missed. (Oh, I need to flip or Oh, I need to move left not right versus Mine looks completely upsidedown and backwards!)

    And to be nitpicky, the start of #9 is just a sentence fragment. (to be really nitpicky, the “you’re”s in your blog post should be “your.”)

    I am looking for a new way to insert coordinate planes now that we’re having to upgrade to Office 2007, which does not support HandyGraph 1.0. What do you use?

    PS–six pages, dude?

    1. Saw your post and thought the matrix had a glitch. How odd to see another Meg C. Pleased to meet you, and I guess I’ll be changing my handle now…

      — Meg Claypool :)

  3. Yeah, question 9’s wording is very, very distracting.

    Question 8: the answer’s simple. Most calculators won’t allow you to directly enter a logarithm and its base. :P

  4. Thanks for sharing this- I definitely appreciate the value of grounding all our chatter in something so concrete. My thoughts, for what they’re worth:

    Overall, I think the organization is clear and easy to follow. Students know what they’re supposed to do and where, and problems follow a format they’re likely very familiar with. And, I think the content is solid for a quiz: you want students to prove procedural fluency, you’ve sprinkled in a few conceptual questions, and they’ll build up to more complicated stuff for the final test.

    As far as formatting, I liked to add points boxes to each section so that a) students knew how much each question was worth and the grading system was clear- no mystery points and b) I could more easily grade in sections, enter section points into a spreadsheet, and track the places where students did well/poorly. Students would also do that tracking themselves the day I returned the quiz so they knew which types of problems they were losing points on and should study more– might be easy to align to your topics list. Also, how do you use your topics list in class? Might be a good exercise for students to spend a few minutes (or hw time) identifying 1-2 sample questions from previous homeworks or notes that align to each topic question so they know exactly what it means to “come up with an equation” or “apply logarithm rules”?

    I will say that I wasn’t totally clear what I should do for #1– since there were three graphs, I’m guessing I should have drawn each transformation separately instead of just drawing the final, and listing each transformation in words?

    In #9, are students expected to know the half-life of carbon-14, or would you just want them to be able to set up a decay equation, regardless of context (drugs/alcohol in blood, half-life of other elements, amount of light passing through glass, decibels, Richter scale, etc.)? If the latter, I might give a context other than carbon-14 because that’s often the easiest for students to “get.”

    And, are there other ways to increase rigor in addition to asking conceptual explain questions? Could students find the error in “solved” problems? Write their own? Intentionally solve a problem incorrectly and tell you why it’s incorrect? Write the log equation given a graph, using knowledge of transformations? Use multiple methods to solve a log equation (rearranging so it looks like an exponent, using the change of base formula, etc.)?

    Apologies for the essay and for any faulty assumptions I made– I get pretty excited about this kind of stuff :)

  5. !. Way too long. Students who kind of know the stuff, but need to really think it through, will be exhausted, and won’t be able to do their best work.

    2. #1: Why is there a required order to the transformations? Won’t both orders work?

    3. I assume they’re used to the term ‘base function’, so that’s not strange to them? (I don’t remember what my text calls them. It’s not ‘base function’. I like to call them ‘toolbox functions’.)

    4. Would you post the answers to #7 and 8, and your grading criteria? I’d love to see what wrong answers people gave, and am curious about what counted as right.

    5. #9 requires remembering the half-life of carbon-14. I have a crappy memory. Did you tell them they had to have that memorized? (That’s not math, imo.)

    Thanks for sharing! In the fall, I’ll try to remember to share mine too. I’ve been trying to make them shorter for years. I hope one of the proponents of standards-based grading comes and chimes in.

  6. So, yea, it’s pretty long. I mean, if your students are finishing this and doing well then skip the rest of this paragraph, but if not here’s what I would suggest to make it shorter: There’s a good bit of redundancy in #10, I’d cut it to half of those questions. There’s a fair amount of redundancy in #2-6 as well. I get what you’re doing with each question, but you might have to make sacrifices to make it shorter. If you want to change it up with questions like 5, 6 and 7 you’re probably going to have to sacrifice extensively testing every detail in straightforward problems as in 2, 4 and 10 respectively. Again though, if your students are doing fine with the length, none of this really matters. A lot of my student have 50-100% extended time on tests due to processing issues, so for me personally giving something like this might take 3 days and maybe I’m just biased.

    I would also split up question 1 into two shorter graphing questions with less scaffolding.

    You’re brave for putting this out there so I commend you. Although, I’m not sure how you have the bravery for this and cringe at the thought of a spider!

  7. Hi all,

    I love all these comments! I will let people throw out more, but I thought I’d give some basic info behind this assessment.

    1. I for some reason got in the habit of writing “QUIZ” on all their assessments instead of test. (We don’t have quizzes, except pop quizzes.) So they had an entire 50 minutes to complete it.

    2. I have a number of students with extended time, so they had an additional 25 minutes to complete it.

    3. My class is a regular Algebra II course (regular meaning not accelerated).

    4. I meant to put the half life of Carbon, and when I realized I forgot it, I wrote it on the whiteboard for them.

    5. I had to make a choice about whether to give logarithms the short shrift nearing the end of the year to give time to statistics, or to go in depth and skip statistics. I decided that since they see logs again (and in more depth) next year, that I would just cover this material. So this is as far as we’re getting.

    6. For the function transformation questions, they’ve had about a million transformation questions so they’re used to this format. I always give extra graphs for them to practice on. I def. see why there is confusion about this if you hadn’t seen it before.


    1. I have the same problem as your #1 here. So, I’ve taken to calling the “Quests.” Originally I thought of it as a portmanteau of “quiz” and “test,” but it goes along with the theme of the class being a journey for knowledge, so I think it works on multiple levels.

      “Your quest this week will be based on function transformations.”

  8. There are a lot of questions. How much of this do you really need to see whether or not a kid gets the topic and its facets?

    I’ve been playing with the idea of shortening all my tests next year – instead of full period, three-quarters of a period, or something like that. With length on my mind, of course that’s what caught my attention first.


  9. You’ve got me thinking…(confession: I haven’t actually looked at your test yet). As soon as there are enough hours in the day (maybe after Prom) expect a post from me about how my assessments have changed this year and my “process”. I’d love your feedback once I get it out there. And feel free to get on my case if I don’t do it!

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