Friday, May 06, 2011

What Students Learn When Studying Physics Practice Exam Problems

A rather interesting study on a topic that I don't think have been looked at much. This group of researchers try to evaluate what students understand and gain when they were given past, old exams (some with solutions) to practice and study on[1].

Abstract: We developed a web-based tool to provide students with access to old exam problems and solutions. By controlling the order in which students saw the problems, as well as their access to solutions, we obtained data about student learning by studying old exam problems. Our data suggest that in general students learn from doing old exam problems, and that having access to the problem solutions increases their learning. However, the data also suggest the depth of learning may be relatively shallow. In addition, the data show that doing old exam problems provides important formative assessment about the student’s overall preparedness for the exam and their particular areas of strength and weakness.

In particular, they were trying to address these questions:

How much do students learn from doing a multiple-choice exam problem and getting feedback about the correct answer? Does providing students with a complete solution improve their learning? How accurately does student performance on practice exam problems predict their performance on actual exam problems? In particular, can it help predict areas that a student should spend more time studying?

Going over the paper, I first had a chuckle when looking at Fig. 1 which shows that most of the students tried the practice exams within 24 hours of the exam! Typical last-minute cramming! :)

It appears that these are "multiple choice" tests. Although the authors don't think that this may make a significant difference, I'm not so sure about that, because one also can't discount random selection, or at least, a student making an educated guess without actually knowing the correct answer.

Still, it's an interesting study to read.


[1] W. Fakcharoenphol et al., Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. v.7, p.010107 (2011).


El Charro said...

Thanks for the link.

Regarding your comment on figure 1. I haven't read the paper, but I would've probably attempted to solve the old exam questions also around 24 hrs from the real test. The reason being that I would've studied the "regular" way before and use the old exams as a probe to see what areas were my weakest. While I agree that probably many of those that look at it during the last 24hrs are probably doing last minute cramming I wonder how many would've done the same thing as me.

I also wondered how to separate the learning the material from the getting used to the format of the test. I remember a few instances in college when I performed horribly on the first test in a class, not because I didn't know the material but because I wasn't used to that particular exam format. The following tests I performed much better with an equal amount of time and same studying technique as I used for the first one. I am not trying to undermine their study, in particular because I haven't read the paper (plus I have a feeling that their general claim is true: doing practice tests helps you learn) but you have to worry about separating different effects that improve a score that have nothing to do with learning.

In general

El Charro said...

Hey Zapper,

Since you seem to be interested in education, here's a link you might find interesting.

I know it's to my own blog. I don't mean my opinion is correct, but look at the links (specially the one's to Michael Marder's interview and videos). I thought they were really interesting.