For the professors reading this post, I am writing to gain some insight by asking for your advice. Even though I have been teaching organic chemistry for five years now, I still struggle with how to assess my students’ knowledge. 

When I was a student, we had a series of free-response/short-answer questions on our exams. I saw immense value in these kinds of questions because they showed my true knowledge—both its depth and breadth. Nowadays, as a younger faculty member in my first and second years, I tried to keep up with the written style of exams from my student years, but I found myself drowning in grading. Although I generally prefer written tests, because they give my students the chance to earn partial credit, I found grading exams for a class with a minimum of fifty students, across three midterms and a final, to be quite daunting. 

As such, in my third and fourth years, I transitioned to a mixed-format exam with multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and mechanism questions. It made things easier, but my colleague and I often received comments that our assessments were not consistent with each other’s because he often had multiple-choice exams compared to my mixed-format exams. Then, in my fifth year, the pandemic occurred, and the transition to online classes pushed my colleague and I to stay as consistent as possible, so we decided to offer one uniform exam, given in the same amount of time for both our MWF and TR classes. In general, the amount of criticism from students decreased. 

Regardless of test format, we—as teachers—always have to generate new test questions so we can prevent the sharing of old exams and other course material. Multiple-choice assessments have certainly helped during the pandemic, as they offer quick results to our students. However, as we move forward in the course to focus on reactions and mechanisms, I feel the need to reintroduce written examinations again. 

What are your thoughts on examinations? How do you keep them fresh for students over the years? How do you protect your classroom content from being shared? And, most importantly, how do you battle students’ opinions that we, as their instructors, have it out for them?

Over my five years of teaching, weekly assignments, such as quizzes and worksheets, had been evenly spread out throughout each semester. But it became exhausting for me to promptly grade assignments and draft their respective answer keys. Not only did the worksheets (roughly one per chapter) turn into a point of frustration on my end, but my students also grew increasingly anxious about lost points and how they would influence their overall grade. Ultimately, I was disappointed, as I had intended for the worksheets to be viewed as additional opportunities for my students to practice. Thus, in Spring 2021, I made the decision to factor all the worksheets and quizzes as “extra” course points.

What assignments do you typically assign in your course, and how much are they worth? Do you offer any bonus opportunities for students? If so, how? If not, why not?

Overall, I like to remind myself that, as instructors, we are part of a support system that encourages us to exchange ideas with each other and sharpen our skills in the classroom. With your responses to this post, I am hoping to gain fresh perspectives that can help me become a better teacher for my students, both now and for years to come.

-Kerri Taylor, Columbus State University

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