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TEACHING COLLEGE TIP #07: Less Tests, More Interviews

It's time to try alternatives to the traditional test. Especially when online.

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by Norman Eng in Blog, Education
November 24, 2020 5 comments

Going forward, I’ll share some of my readers’ best tips for teaching online. They will be short and random (I won’t start at #1) . . . AND I promise they won’t waste your time.


TEACHING COLLEGE TIP #07: Less Tests, More Interviews

I teach Anatomy and Physiology, with competencies ranging from the levels of knowing (Anatomy mostly) to analyzing (mostly physiology).

When doing a final exam online, I struggled with the risk of cheating, so I decided to change my final exam to an individual interview style (I had a group of 25 students).

I created five different scenarios (i.e., case studies) with a set of somewhat complex questions based on physiological concepts.

I gave these cases and questions to the students two weeks ahead of time and told them that at the time of their interview, they would find out which case they would have to answer. They would only get one case to answer.

Students could prepare for the physiology questions, but they were told that following these questions, they would have 3 anatomy questions to answer (not known to them and different for each student).

This got them working on all five cases, so that they would be prepared for any one of them. It also got students discussing, sharing and exchanging ideas.

I had prepared a detailed rubric for each case to make sure I could quickly annotate during the interview.

The results were really exciting: the students went deeper, spent more time on learning than for previous examination, and did relatively well.

I also got one-on-one time with each student as they finished my course. It was wonderful to have that time with them, connecting one last time.

The trade-off?

It is manageable with 25 students, but with larger groups, the time to do interviews (30 minutes each) would have been too demanding.

 – Isabelle M., Champlain College Lennoxville, Biology


I particularly love the idea of creating a set of questions to prepare for…then giving students a random subset to answer. To make this work, the questions must be open-ended (as they are in case studies).

Thank you, Isabelle! More Teaching College Tips coming. Care to submit one? Go here.

Share your thoughts about testing below!

5 Comments
  1. John says:

    I love this idea of the interview but more the idea that students have to study all five case studies AND that they get a randomly selected question to answer, as opposed to all of them. There is a personal element to interviews that I like, but like you said limited to smaller classes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Andrea Goering says:

    The learning gains from seeing multiple cases 1) can work in formats other than interviews and 2) can work with questions that aren’t open-ended. Check out the Public Exam: https://medium.com/@coursehero/the-public-exam-system-simple-steps-to-more-effective-tests-7b01f8d4c658

    I do like the interview format idea, particularly for midterms when I am still building rapport with students, and more face-time with them would help do that.

  3. JB Dawson says:

    Teaching a difficult, mandatory business course via hybrid is challenging. My quizzes and exams are delivered via D2L, with a liberal timeframe. Students can use open book and notes. If they have to look something up, at least they are cracking open a book. But it doesn’t help students with critical thinking questions, they have to think.

  4. Claudia Chaufan says:

    The way I deal with tests online is simple: I’ve ditched them! I’ve distributed the grading throughout the term with smaller assignments that are fairly easy to grade and require students to engage and grapple with the material.

    1. Norman Eng says:

      Claudia, if you are able to ditch tests, I’m all for it! For others it will be difficult. Hope they can at least find ways that are more authentic.

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7 PROVEN STEPS TO PLANNING, TEACHING, & ENGAGING YOUR STUDENTS

A Quick-Start Guide

GET IT NOW