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How to create a Comprehension-based Midterm or final

December 14, 2011

When we make changes to instruction, we must also change assessment (and vice versa!). If you—like me—are transitioning to a more proficiency-oriented, comprehension-based way of teaching, you are probably realizing that your old ScanTron Midterms and Finals just won't cut it.

So... what does a benchmark assessment (like a midterm or final) look like for a communicative course?

What to include in a midterm or final for communicative courses

If you've been studying grammar and vocabulary in class, then you should assess grammar and vocabulary on your midterms and finals.

If your students have been reading, listening, writing, and speaking, then your students should read, listen, write, and speak on their semester exams. Midterms and finals for communicative language classes, then, will probably include sections that are focused on:

  • reading comprehension / interpretive
  • listening comprehension / interpretive
  • writing performance / presentational
  • speaking performance / presentational
  • speaking performance / interpersonal

Note: I never administered summative, interpersonal speaking assessments. You can read why here!

What does a semester exam for a communicative course look like?

How about I show you? Here is the midterm that I administered to students in my Spanish 1A courses:

Click on image to access complete midterm for Spanish 1A

How to structure a final exam for a communicative class

Typically, the summative assessments that I administer to my students are short– like, finish them in 5-10 minutes short. A summative assessment does not have to be long for a student to be able to demonstrate their performance and give you the information you need! For Midterms and Finals, however, we run a testing schedule with 90 minute blocks and the assessments are expected to fill (or mostly fill) that time.

To design an assessment that is long enough to meet the building requirement, I essentially create a collection of smaller assessments. I include 1-2 each of short reading comprehension assessments, listening comprehension assessments, and presentational writing assessments, and maaaaaaaaaybe 1 speaking assessment.

Instead of averaging out all the scores and putting them in the gradebook as a single, final/midterm exam grade (where would it go?!), I grade each component separately and add them into the appropriate category of the gradebook. Learn more about my gradebook categories here.

Component 1: Reading comprehension assessment

To assess reading comprehension, your students need to READ something! While there has been a trend toward assessing interpretive proficiency using authentic resources in recent years, I prefer to keep #authres to activities and use scaffolded texts for assessments. Update: read why here! In this case, I wrote an original story that used the words that we had been working with in class through storytelling and cultural exploration.

In this particular midterm that I wrote for my 1As, I assessed reading comprehension with a CLOZE passage. Students had to choose words from a word bank to fill in the blanks. I often include a second reading comprehension section with comprehension questions written in English. Read why I ask reading comprehension questions in English on assessments!

Component 2: Reading comprehension assessment

I used a Pick the Pic style assessment for the listening assessment on this midterm. I wrote a series of 10 sentences using words that my students were familiar with, but in new contexts so that they had to use inference/context clues to understand pieces of some of the statements.

Students were given 10 sets of 2-3 pictures. I read each statement that I had prepared, and students had to identify which picture was being described. Easy for me to prepare, no stress for them!

Component 3: Presentational speaking assessment

Blah. I am so torn on presentational speaking assessment in Level 1A. I sometimes assess it and sometimes don't. In this case, I decided to just assess my students on pronunciation. They read a list of words aloud in Spanish, and I marked them on how well I could understand what they were saying.

In the past, I have done story re-tells for speaking assessments. I think that's probably a better option.

Component 4: Presentational writing assessment

For this section, I showed my students 6 images. They needed to describe each image with 2 sentences in Spanish to reach for 'Proficient' (B), or 3 sentences per image to reach for 'Advanced'. Read more about how I let my students choose their goal here.

Find more ideas for benchmark exams

Examine some myths about summative assessments, and find lists of ideas for interpretive, presentational, and interpersonal assessments in this post on End-of-Term Assessments:

Consider whether your BIG tests are setting your students up for success in this post on developing assessments:

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