Giving a test on the second day of class

This might sound crazy, but the best teaching idea I implemented in 2017 was giving a test on the second day of class. And I mean a full on 40 minute exam, not a little quiz.

Last fall I taught Applied Econometrics—the second course in a two semester sequence that follows a relatively standard introductory course on probability and statistics. I’ve seen the syllabus for the prerequisite course, but it’s never been clear what my students learned, and more importantly remembered, from that class. I’ve tried asking them, but they aren’t very self-aware, and I would end up spending two weeks lecturing on old material. This process was overwhelming for half the class and boring for the other half.

Maxwell, McDonnell, and Wieman provide a solution in their 2015 paper: “An Improved Design for In-class Review”. They recommend giving students a test of the skills required for the class, and then have them do the test again in groups. So George Orlov (the Economics ALI) and I wrote down what we wanted the students to know walking in the door, and created a test of these skills. I’ll be writing lots more this spring about assessing learning outcomes, but if you can’t wait, check out Michelle Smith on the Teach Better Podcast

On the first day of class, I told my students what was coming and why it was important. They took the test on the second day, and in the second week, I filled in the now glaringly obvious gaps in their knowledge with a series of very short focused lectures and in-class problems. Then we were off and running on a much more solid foundation ever before.