I have always in the past started to write my exams with a fresh sheet of paper. For each lecture, I would write roughly the same number of questions, and I have always written entirely original questions my exams. Last week, I took an exam from the last time that I taught the class, and simply rewrote most of the old questions. This rewriting was extensive—I restructured the point of the question and wrote entirely different answers for the multiple choices, but this approach meant I didn’t spend time thinking about question topics. Of course, the main topics of the lectures remain the same from year to year despite the bits of new information and different ways of explaining material that are added each year.
By last Sunday morning, I had finished writing the exam and made two forms of it. The forms have the same questions but in different orders to limit opportunities for students to copy from neighbors in the tightly packed classroom. I photocopied one form on pink paper and the other on blue.
After I photocopied the exams, I went off to a review session that I had scheduled for the students on Sunday afternoon. There were about 15 students at the review, and I spent an hour and a half answering their questions. This small group of students seemed relatively ready for the exam.
The exam went smoothly on Monday morning, although I noticed that students who had blue exams tended to finish more quickly than students who had pink exams. This had to be one of those odd, random events because the two exams forms were identical except for the order of questions. But it was odd. And then, when the scores for the exam were returned from the processing facility (the Deus ex Machina of grades), the mean on the pink exam was three points lower than the mean on the blue exam. I checked for errors on my key but couldn’t find any. And I began to think that my pink exam was prone to quirkiness.
The mean on the exam was 68 points out of 100 possible. The mean was respectable, and I felt it was a successful test, covering broadly the content of the material we had studied and providing student scores that ranged from the low 30s to 94 points. [O.k., I admit that I am always discouraged that all of my students don’t do exceptionally well on exams. I really want to believe the lectures are excellent, and that the students are fully engaged and wanting to learn. In the real classroom, both lectures and students are compromises.] When I discussed the exam with the students in lecture on Wednesday, there were a few grimaces and a few hard stares, but otherwise everyone seemed to be relatively content with the test and scores. One student did suggest that one of my questions was vague. Surely not, I was thinking . . . and thinking also that they were concerned only [ONLY!] about one question.
Now we move forward with more material—new labs this week and new lecture material. And my diligent students, who are thirsty for knowledge. . . half of them skipped class yesterday, a lovely Friday.
* * *
Here are ten questions from the exam for your test-taking pleasure:
1. The formation of haploid cells from a diploid cell results from:
2. In autumn, the abscission process that separates leaves from the main part of the plant body involves:
A. Perforation of cell walls.
B. Formation of secondary cell walls that seal the leaf from the movement of nutrients.
C. Breakage of cellulose microfibrils.
D. Breakdown of pectin in middle lamella.
3. Which of the following is true of plant sporophytes?
A. The sporophyte makes sporocytes that undergo meiosis to make spores for dispersal.
B. The sporophyte phase is limited only to the diploid zygote, which undergoes meiosis.
C. The sporophyte makes gametangia in which gametes are formed after cells undergo meiosis.
D. The sporophyte is a result of asexual reproduction that involves fragmentation of the plant body.
4. The main constituent of primary cell walls of plants is:
5. Where would you expect to find cells that have secondary cell walls?
A. Around the photosynthetic cells of leaves.
B. In the abscission zones of leaves.
C. In cells that function in providing rigid support, such as those of tree trunks.
D. In all eukaryotic cells but not in prokaryotic cells.
6. In the life cycle of plants, zygotes result from:
A. Plasmolysis of gametes.
B. Syngamy of gametes.
C. Daughter cells of mitotic cell divisions.
D. Daughter cells of meiotic cell divisions.
7. In autumn, leaves change color in some trees from green to yellow or orange because:
A. Chlorophyll degrades to reveal anthocyanin pigments in cell vacuoles.
B. Chlorophyll degrades to reveal carotenoid pigments in chloroplasts.
C. Chloroplasts begin to form carotenoids rather than chlorophyll.
D. Nitrogenous compounds in leaves begin to glow red when they are absorbed back into the plant body from the dying leaves.
8. The energy that drives the light reactions of photosynthesis is obtained from:
D. Sugar molecules.
9. Plant cells are turgid when:
A. Cellulose microfibrils in the cell wall are locked in place by keytanes.
B. An equilibrium of water movement into and out of a cell is achieved.
C. Secondary cell wall formation prevents cell expansion.
D. Osmosis causes the entry of water into the cell and the protoplast pushes outward against the cell wall.
10. The volume of mature plant cells consists largely of which of the following?
D. Cell wall.
* * *
The answers are: 1B, 2D, 3A, 4A, 5C, 6B, 7B, 8B, 9D, 10A.