What happened when I let my class prep questions for their English test


Like many other educators, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to best help my students prepare for tests. While I do not teach to the test, I try to make sure we cover all ground possible. I post videos to my youtube channel, I post links to learning apps and online exercises on Quizlet and I  connect with them outside of the classroom via whatsapp, email, sms, fb etc. I’ve explained how to prepare for tests, I’ve coached and urged them to practice writing and learn vocabulary and I’ve given them practice sheets. For their last test of the year, I decided to take a novel approach 2 weeks ago. Here’s what happened when I challenged my students to prepare questions their own test. 

I’ve been eager to try this method ever since experiencing this in an adult learning group. A professor at university allowed us to prepare our very own question catalogue (with answers), which he used for the final exam. In the role of the learner, I really appreciated the trust our instructor placed in us; this motivated us even more to create great questions and we knew the content by the end of the exercise.

In my class, the initial reaction was naturally surprise and slight panic. It’s not every day that a teacher challenges them to prepare exam questions. They were doubtful that they could do it, not considering the possibility that they could become experts. I scaffolded a little, reviewing the material for the test and showing them sources of explanations. I reminded them of copyright restrictions, explaining that I could not use questions that have been published in print or on the internet. Then I let them work for around 40 minutes.

Those of you who have challenged students before can imagine what happened next. They rose to the challenge! They chose independently what topic they wanted to test one. Each student produced at least one exercise with questions AND answers, not all correct of course, but that was quickly remedied. Many had to be coached on how to frame questions or how to think about the test person. They had to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider whether their questions could really be answered. They were compelled to look up the points being tested. THIS was the single best benefit of the experiment in my view. I could witness that students dig into subjects and try to develop questions.

Towards the end during the reflection period, they commented that they found it hard to do, which I attributed to the novelty of the task and their burgeoning studying skills. While reviewing their questions when setting up the test for real, I did notice that many copied from the text book, meaning I could not use it. Still, the final test version has many of their proposals with slight corrections or adaptions from my side. Great results from an experiment in challenge-based learning, and challenge-based teaching  for me!

Have you challenged your students to prepare their own question catalogue for an upcoming test? Don’t overthink it, just do it!