I was testing my English classes the Tuesday before Thanksgiving but had a meeting off campus that would cause me to miss two of the three tests. I didn’t necessarily want to ask teachers to cover the classes, though they would have happily (or at least not angrily). But because of the break I didn’t want to push the tests to after Thanksgiving. I figured this was a good time to try the take home, or at least the take-where-you-want, testing format. So I told those two classes that I would miss that the test would be available on ItsLearning during our class period, and they were responsible for completing the test within that time period (my English 4 class and I discussed the timing, and they made it clear that outside-of-the-class-period would be risky, i.e. a night test would be too easily forgotten about) wherever they wanted to do it.
As word got out, the other English 4 class, who was taking their test the day before, when I would be on campus, expressed (mock) frustration that the other class had this option and they did not, to which I figured why not. If I’m trusting one class because I have to, there’s no reason not to trust the other one just because I don’t have to. I then extended the take-where-you-want format to my other two classes (that English 4 class and my Medieval Lit class, for whom I should have been back on campus after the meeting, but who might have had to start without me if the meeting went long).
Here’s how I approached it: I opened the test for longer than the class period to allow for anyone with extra time; I also didn’t necessarily want people to feel like they were rushing (but some still reported that they did). On the other hand, the extra time required that the student had the period after the test free. The entire test was a Word .doc that I uploaded to ItsLearning. Students downloaded the Word .doc, completed the test, and uploaded their completed test. The honor statement that I included was page 1 of the test:
Cheating, of course, is the big question with this approach, so here are two experiences about that. I told my English 4 class, the one for whose test I would be on campus, that I would be in the classroom during class so that they could take the test there if they wanted (for questions, etc.). Two students showed up, which was fine; I didn’t expect many. On the other hand, I had seen other students on campus in the class before that class, so midway through the test I took a walk and found a group of about six students sitting at a table in the cafeteria together. Now on the one hand, this did not look good at all. On the other hand, they were not cheating when I found them (and I saw them before they saw me; I took a circuitous root so I could approach the cafeteria unseen): there were no browsers open, no books on the table, and no talking, not even casual. I did separate them to different tables and stayed for most of the rest of the period in the cafeteria after that, but they were not cheating at the time (which doesn’t mean I wasn’t suspicious otherwise).
After the test, I asked each class to fill out an anonymous survey about cheating and the test. I reiterated to them that it was anonymous and that the results of the survey wouldn’t have any consequences: no grades would be changed, the test wouldn’t be invalidated, etc. I also separated out the surveys, giving three different: one to the college seniors, one to the honors seniors, and one to the honors juniors.
Here is the introductory paragraph I included with the survey:
This survey is designed to collect anonymous information about the FNL [Friday Night Lights] test that you took on your own. Please understand that there will be no consequences from the results of the survey. I am collecting this data purely to understand the process and whether or not it was successful. Your name will not be associated with this survey in any way nor will any grades be affected by the results of this survey. The only specific information asked for is whether you are in an honors or college section.
Here are the results. [All graphs, from top to bottom: Classical Lit (honors juniors), Medieval Lit (honors seniors), English 4 (college seniors).]
Some commentary on the data, in no particular order.
- I’m glad students seemed to be honest; that made me feel better about the survey (not sure how I feel about the cheating; more on that below). Though, of course, I can’t guarantee that there aren’t other students that weren’t honest.
- It was interesting to see how the on-your-own format made students think more about cheating and increased the likelihood of cheating. This is perhaps the most worrisome statistic among them.
- I was surprised at how evenly distributed the method-of-cheating was. I assumed that people would use the Internet, pretty much exclusively (although FNL is not on SparkNotes, there is certainly that type of info out there). The use of pre-prepared notes or question answers was an afterthought for me when I was making the survey (i.e. I almost didn’t include it), so to see two people use that method was surprising.
- One question I forgot to add was the role that the honor statement played. I asked my Medieval Lit class about this after the survey, and they, pretty much to a student, said it meant nothing. One student put it perfectly when he said that he treated it the way he treats Internet account agreements, i.e. he agrees because he knows he has to without any real thought for the content.
- The honors juniors seemed to be most attuned to the cheating issue; they had the least cheat and were most against the format, both statistically and anecdotally (see below).
Students also had some open response questions as part of the survey, and I was pleasantly surprised with how many of them responded and how much they said. In the English 4 class I remember hearing the keys clicking away and being shocked that they were responding at all.
The first open response asked to explain why they answered the previous question the way they did (the one on whether or not they want to see this approach continued).
Classical Lit (honors juniors)
I would have been anxious either way. I’m indifferent because either way a test is a test and its stressful for me It puts me more at ease so that I’m less likely to stress out and more likely to do my best. It’s more relaxed and not as stressful as when you’re in the classroom environment. I like the fact that you can take it in a quiet low pressure environment as supposed to a classroom where you feel like its a prison you will only be released from when you finish. I feel like this test version allows a certain peace of mind that takes the pressure off and helps me focus less on the circumstances and more on doing well on the test. Taking the test in an environment of my choice felt slightly more relaxing and less stressful. i dont care I think that this method was less stressful for the student, since they are taking it in an environment that has less tension between other students. There is no teacher to answer questions, but I don’t really care about it. I have a distraction problem and the presence of classmates or a teacher make me focus better on the test. it really isn’t fair because even if i dont cheat, the percentage of cheaters will be much higher in this sort of test situation, and others will get better grades having cheated, whereas someone being honest will score lower. It allows other people to have advantages over others when they cheat Listening to music and being alone in a cubicle helps me think and process the questions better than in the high stress situation of a classroom. I liked taking the test in this setting because it was less nerve-wracking because you could find a place by yourself and that was less stressful than having tons of people around you. The on your own format definitely increased the likelihood of cheating; however, I found that the take home test was less anxiety-provoking and I feel more confident about how I did on the test because of this. I would rather take the test in class, because the teacher is available and he can answer questions of the students. I think the teacher would be helpful during a test/quiz The formal setting allows for a quiet, focused workspace, where everyone will spend the entire time working. It also significantly decreases the chances of cheating through the entire class. The downside of the other system was that other people kept bothering me while I was taking the test, and my space sometimes became too loud to work in.
Medieval Lit (honors seniors)
indifferent I was much more relaxed in the take-home test setting than I would have been in the classroom. Although the test did make me cheating more, I thought that the casual setting and convenient feel to the test made the test a repeatable experience. I liked the freedom of being able to take it on my own. I just would rather have you in the class for the entire time to go to for help if needed. I think that it gives us more freedom to choose the setting we are most comfortable in. It also makes the test-taking feel less stressful, rather than if I was sitting in a quite room being pressed by time. It doesn’t make a difference to me whether or not we take the tests in class or individually, though it was nice to be comfortable at home. I think it is much better to be able to take a test in a place where you are comfortable taking it. It was a lot less stressful for me to be in an environment where I could have my shoes off and some food next to me. If there weren’t any take home/on your own tests, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it certainly was better than an in school test. gives more time and less stress into completing the test. In a traditional setting, I usually stress and freak out a little more, which could result in blanking out during the test More relaxed setting
Looser time limit
It’s nice to be able to go through and take it a more comfortable location, such as home or in a more relaxing environment, than in a stiff classroomesque environment. I would have preferred a more structured test, the amount of freedom we had here made it too easy to cheat and I spent less time actually studying the material. – not as stressful, when sitting in the classroom it is almost a competition to see who can finish the test first, not who can answer the questions the best The main reason that I liked this approach for test taking was that it allowed me to be in a more comfortable and relaxed area, which relieved a lot of stress. also the chairs at school can be uncomfortable so i was just more comfortable over all 🙂 -it was nice to be able to take a test in my own bed (WAY less stressful)
-it wasn’t a very hard test so I was very happy that I decided not to cheat after I had taken it; it sort of reassured me that I didn’t have to jump at the opportunity to cheat because I already knew what I was doing
I don’t think it’s fair for people who don’t read the books to get grades they don’t deserve through cheating. – The test was more relaxing and not as high pressured. I was able to take the test wherever I wanted.
English 4 (college seniors)
-comfortable taking it at home
I felt a lot less pressure on the test, I was able to go to my own quite working space and take the test which was a really nice change. I used the web to help with the quiz I feel like taking it home (or doing it where you please) gives you a more relaxed environment. When you take online tests in the class, I know that I often feel pressured to finish and it’s distracting watching others take the test and hearing them type. -Taking the test on your own time where ever you wanted relieved some of the stress that comes with test taking cheating is badno one should cheat The test was pretty discussion based when I took it at home, but people would have cheated either way. I think if we have the freedom to do that sort of test again, like if you said if we don’t cheat, we can do it again, then less people would cheat on it. I enjoyed taking this test at home. But it was unfortunate because I had some questions that I would have liked to ask you..but clearly I could not. Because it relieves the pressure of having to rush yourself to finish if you feel like all your classmates are finishing while you are still working. Because it relieves the pressure of having to rush yourself to finish if you feel like all your classmates are finishing while you are still working. Its a lot more flexible and taking a test in my pajamas at my house is a lot better than coming to school and taking it in a classroom Because it relieves the pressure of having to rush yourself to finish if you feel like all your classmates are finishing while you are still working. – It was nice to be able to find my own place that was more comfortable than the traditional classroom and take the test without feeling pressured if I finished last. I was able to focus better on answering the questions correctly. The test was much more friendly when I was able to take it wherever I wanted rather than being forced to sit in a classroom with everyone else. It was much more stress free. It was easier to do the test in my house where I felt more comfortable (also in the same room as I read Milton so it almost felt like it was easier to remember the book in that spot). Even though I didn’t cheat, it did feel easier taking it in my own room. I think this is more like a collage setting, on how a professor would give you a test. I think that if you do cheat you are just cheating your self. So it takes strength to not cheat. makes people more moral. I thought the format gave me a more open and comfortable environment to take my test. – I thought it was a lot less stressful than taking it in class. I like it better than coming to the classroom I like that I didn’t have to come to class. I like not having to come to class
It takes more pressure off the test
It feels better not having to take it in class
I liked the open format. it took some of the stress away which is usually associated with tests. i also felt as though i could focus more by being on my own i would not cheat because im not that kind of person You don’t learn from cheating so don’t do it it doesn’t really matter but i like taking tests in LRT I like seeing the trust the teacher has in there students, and having a test o your own i feel eliminates some of the stress considering you can take it on your own time where you want and not be pressured by those taking it around you in the class. I do not test well with other people present. I do better on my own in a more quiet setting where I am able to listen to music. Because it gives you more freedom and allows you to possibly take the test in a more comfortable environment for you that could allow you to do better on the test. it was very convenient to take at home I liked being able to take the test in starbucks, somewhat on my own time. This allowed me to concentrate more. Additionally although there was the temptation to cheat, i knew that i would not be able to complete the test in the required time if i did it with other students and i felt there were high chances of getting caught, so i did not cheat. I think a lot of kids that were going to cheat would have done it anyways. Personally, it wasn’t really a test that I thought I could cheat on because it wasn’t like i could re-read the whole book over again and there isn’t much online and to be able to complete the test you needed full knowledge of the book that you could only get from actually reading it. It took stress off of taking the test
It was calmer
I felt more comfortable while taking the test at home, instead of taking a test in a class with everyone else. When someone finishes a test before me I start to feel rushed, but when I’m at home I don’t feel rushed but more relaxed. -Good idea to have this format
-More freedom to take the test
-Would like to have this format more often although students might cheat more if we do
take the test in a more comfortable setting
Eat and drink while I take the test
I feel like it would be better to take it in the classroom and cheating couldn’t be an option. I liked being able to take the test outside of the classroom because it lowered the level of stress I had about the test. Also taking a test at home or outside of a classroom is more comfortable. Its very convenient! I like taking the test outside of class, it works better so you can stay at home and take it there
This is the other open-ended question:
Please include any other thoughts about the test approach here, including but not limited to whether or not you know of anyone that cheated (no names) or whether you thought the approach helped or hurt your test-taking.
Classical Lit (honors juniors)
I think it was okay; however, I do think it increased the likelihood of cheating. I know that some people cheated but I think that the majority tried to do their best on their own. I think it helped my test taking because I wasn’t as worried because I knew that if I completely didn’t know anything I could cheat, even if I didn’t necessarily, but it was nice that I had the backup idea. I dont know of anyone who cheated but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone did. I think this approach helped me take the test and you could improve it if there is a way to disable internet access it would make it much less likely for people to cheat. I think it helped my test-taking because I was more relaxed. it made it weird. whyat I was much more relaxed and felt less pressured. People who were not in the class would come up to me to ask me questions about other subjects because they did not realize that I was taking a test. I don’t know anyone who cheated, in fact most classmates I saw were opposed to cheating and left their groups of friends if they were being loud or distracting. idk It helped my test taking because it was a low stress environment and I was able to listen to music, which I did not consider to be cheating. I don’t think it helped or hurt my test-taking Ultimately I feel that the test increased the likelihood of cheating and I know lots of students took advantage of this. If you take the test in class (when the teacher is there) is better than other “public” places, like the library or the commons; in class everyone is silent, in other rooms there’s more noise and I could’t focus on the test. If we are to do this system again, I would suggest a “quiet zone” where the test takers can go for silent work at a desk, away from the other people in their frees. For example: working in the empty classroom.
Medieval Lit (honors seniors)
People may have used notes, but I am not sure I enjoyed the test taking experience, but if the test had covered more materail that I didn’t know, my desire to cheat on the test would have been higher. I think we should start together and get set up but then break off if we want to I liked this test-taking approach. I didn’t really talk to people about much after the test, so not much to say here. I think the approach helped me take the test. It was an all around less stressful environment. The lack of stress is very nice.
The approach I feel like benefitted my test performance.
The test was written in a way where it was still necessary to have read the book and payed attention during class. I am glad I read the book, just looking on the web during the test would not have resulted in good scores. I’m not sure whether or not this method helped or hurt my test score (well, I certainly don’t think it could have hurt it), but I can say that this test taking experience was a lot less stressful than most. Just knowing that I would have the class notes only a click away on my computer resulted in me not getting worked up about the test. Even though I didn’t end up having to use external sources in the end, it was kind of comforting knowing that they were there. I know people cheated, it’s really obvious. Not having the test in class though does relieve the pressure. I was surprised that I wasn’t blanking out on the spot on answers as I would if I had taken the test in a classroom setting. -I think I might know a couple of people that cheated but i’m not sure. I think that the approach to test taking did not affect my grade because it is the same test as I would have taken in class.
English 4 (college seniors)
It increased my test taking skills I know some people who did cheat, but it also comes down to if they are a good writer as well! and I think this definitely helped the outcome of my test grade I liked the on my own format of the test I think it helped me because of the relaxed environment I had. -I think this approach helped the test taker because if they did in fact cheat their would do good on the test and if they did not cheat and did not know the material, it would be detrimental to their grade. i think when i see someone cheating i think it no only hurts their grade but the overall class grade which is BAD!!! Pretty sure a lot of people cheated, they are lying if they said nobody did, but thats sort of the nature of a take home test Either way, taking the test at home was great because I am comfortable in that environment and that is overall where I do my best work. I think the test was just too long..I would have done much better if I was able to better prepare myself for the questions. Then, I would not have been so crunched on time. I spent most of the test-time panicking about weather or not I was going to finish. It was chill because it allowed you to be outside of class and kind of work at your own pace. It was chill because it allowed you to be outside of class and kind of work at your own pace. The approach helped it because i was more relaxed It was chill because it allowed you to be outside of class and kind of work at your own pace. I know that some people might of cheated, and I think this helped my test taking based on my answer in the previous question. The time limit was kind of annoying though when it got towards the end of the test because I felt like I did not have time to finish some of my answers. One of the reasons I didn’t cheat is because, where would I start? Practically all of the questions on the test were neither strictly fact based nor “light” interpretation questions, but most questions were “hard-core” interpretation questions. Yes having my notes open probably would have helped somewhat but I had read over my notes a million times in the 3 days before so that really wouldn’t have helped significantly. i think that most people went to work in teams on this test. and they just conversed with one another. To be honest i think this promotes working with others that you are not normally accustom to working with it encourages you to work in teams almost. (even thought your not suppose to work in teams) I didn’t hear about anyone cheating and didn’t even consider it myself. I don’t think it changed the results of my test, would’ve been the same either way. I wouldn’t mind doing another test like that again. I liked the approach of the test i liked the on your own test because i could just take it on my bed and not have any distractions I think the approach helped my test taking. It was less stressful taking the test, and i actually think the trust of letting us take it on our own made kids want to cheat less. It helped my test taking. I was able to be more relaxed. I believe that taking the test with this approach benefitted me because it allowed me to take it in a comfortable environment. I think the approach helped my test taking. I think that by cheating on the test it wouldnt have got me anywhere in the long run. I know some students cheated by taking it together and giving each other ideas however, that can only go so far because they did have to write their own paragraphs. I think the approach helped my test taking because it was in a more relaxed environment and I was just alone in my silent room. I think it helped my test taking because it allowed me to focus more than i would have had everyone taken the test in the room. Personally, the constant clicking of the computer due to people typing is distracting, so by getting rid of the clicking I became more focused. I thought it was pretty neutral I feel like the test could of been shorter. I don’t think this approached either helped or hurt me because I actually read the whole book. I think that the approach helped my test-taking because I was in a more comfortable environment. I think the school should consider making a room with comfortable seating like chairs, bean bags, or couches so that a teacher can bring his class there to take a test where the students wouldn’t be able to cheat but would be in a comfortable environment. I didnt like the word doc format of the test
The one thing that struck me about the open-response was the consistent emphasis on the impact of environment on the stress of taking a test, that students either felt much more comfortable being able to choose their space (home, library, coffee shop) or, less so, that the absence of the teacher increased stress. The big question now becomes whether this positive is enough to outweigh the negative of the cheating.
I go back and forth on the cheating. This was an open-ended test; students had no objective / multiple choice questions to look up. I’d bet that even those that did cheat will not necessarily do appreciably better because the grading is as much about writing as it is about content. (When I am finished grading the tests, I will include some statistics about the grades, which I think are relevant to this discussion as well.)
I think I’ll wrap things up here. Congrats if you made it this far; this was a lot to take in. I’m still turning some things over about the cheating piece, but they’ve not quite coalesced yet into something I want to put down on ‘paper’. Hopefully more on that in another post.
Of course, though, I’d love to hear what people think about all this: the format, the philosophy, the cheating, modifications, suggestions, etc.