Thursday, May 27, 2021

Life Of A Math Teacher: Test Drives

Slide into your seat, and buckle up.

Examine the instrument panel and imagine how it's going to feel to get this baby on the road.

No, technically she doesn't belong to you, but this is your golden moment to 

give her a whirl, 

see how she performs, 

try her around some tight curves, and 

get a feel for how she handles. 

Now you're ready. 

Hit the ignition, put her in drive, pick up a pencil, and let's get this test drive started.

* * * * *

When it's time to serve up a midterm or final exam to my math students, I write my own.

Well, I'm not insane, so I don't make up my own problems. But I do sort through the textbook to find just the right combination of deliciously difficult but not unreasonable problems to test the concepts that I deem most important. 

Then I write them out in my own hand, make lots of lovely copies, and then collate them together into a test packet ready for my wonderful students to work.

But before I deliver the tests, I give them a careful run-through to make sure I haven't made any mistakes. Dropping a critical word, transposing a number, even dashing off a sloppy 5 that looks like an innocent S might be enough to derail an eager test taker, and the last thing I want to do is create needless confusion for these kids.

So, as the final stage in my preparation process, I take my tests for a test drive.


I clear away the flurry of books and papers required to compose the tests as well as several hours' worth of empty La Croix cans, take a deep, calming breath, and shift gears to a peaceful environment and headspace. Just as I remind my students to do.

Then I fold back the instruction page on the first test - I start with pre-algebra and work up from there - take one more deep breath, and begin to work the problems. 

I work carefully and deliberately, 

showing each step as I expect my students to show them, 

highlighting formulas, 

working out some multiplication and division calculations on the side margins (no calculators allowed in my classes), 

and indicating my solution with a neat box. 

 I double check my result against the Solutions Manual, just to be sure I got it right. 

And when I've finished all ten problems on the test, I flip back to the first page and in the upper right corner I write "Answer Key." 

That always feels good.

But as I continue working my way through the higher level tests, with the problems becoming more difficult as we proceed from negative exponents to completing the square to exponential functions, I find that my task has shifted from fact-checking to pure joy.

I love to work math problems. 

And taking this year's final exams for a test drive last night was the most fun I've had in quite some time. 

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