Parsing

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In a lot of the business classes I took as an undergraduate, I would constantly run into these questions on tests where the wording of the questions and answers just completely threw me off. Some of the questions were missing vital information, some of the answers weren’t very specific, and a lot of them used hedge words that made it nearly impossible for me to be confident with whatever answer I chose. Given that these were in classes where I was one of over a hundred students, and given how my teachers in these classes were adjuncts who were always short and abrupt in their dealings with students, it seemed foolish to go up during a test to ask for clarification. I tried asking for clarification a couple of times when I got these questions wrong, and the answers I got back were just slightly more polite rephrasings of "that’s just not the correct answer" without any guidance as to what the correct answer was.

I always suspected that these instructors were just using test questions that had been prepared for them by the textbook company, but it was only about a month ago that I actually came upon one of these "test banks" when I got one along with the textbook for the business writing class I’m teaching this semester. Maybe it’s because I’m a word junkie with a knack for finding all kinds of different ways to interpret words, or maybe it’s because I’m so overly cautious about everything, but I can’t figure out why these questions are written with such nebulous prompts and answers. Worse yet, I’m reading these test questions right after reading the corresponding chapters in the book, and I’m making notes on what I consider to be the important, overriding themes of the chapters, and then the test bank turns around and asks questions about some obscure statistic buried in the middle of a relatively unimportant paragraph. I don’t know the process through which these questions are vetted and selected, but it seems really screwed up to me.

I’m not saying that test banks don’t have a place in teaching, but looking back on my own days as a student I can now see just how they contribute to the laziness of some teachers. I can now look back on the tests I took in the Introduction to Business class I was in my first full-time semester, and the test bank questions literally look exactly like my instructor’s tests were formatted. The instructor (a first-time adjunct who only lasted one more semester and who was almost universally despised by his students) must have just cut out the answer row from the test bank questions, copied that for the test, then filled out the answers on a Scantron sheet without even thinking about the appropriateness or quality of the questions. (He also taught from Powerpoint presentations that were obviously created by the same textbook company.) Being on the other side of the equation now, I understand that coming up with relevant, informative classes and methods of assessing what the students have learned is a difficult process, and yes, I think test banks are useful for instructors to have. Looking back on my own education, though, it seems like a lot of the instructors I had just took the Powerpoints and the test banks provided by the textbook manufacturers, talked for an hour and a half straight twice a week, and put little, if any, thought into just what they wanted students to learn and how best to help them learn those things. How can instructors expect their students to take the time to read and learn all of these things when they won’t take more time to assess their progress than just running a bunch of Scantron sheets through a machine?

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