I suggest that you make an arrangement with the Psych instructor, with the
student's permission, to have a test or tests the student has taken
released to you for the purpose of conducting an error analysis.  This may
provide insight if the problem is with studying, test taking strategies,
or a combination of the two. You may want to do a preliminary analysis on
your own but also continue the process with the student.

I'll try to explain this very simply.  Look at questions the student
answered incorrectly.  The analysis involves different levels.

1. topic area:  were the errors concentrated in certain topic areas or
were they evenly distributed across topic areas?  Purpose: Did the
student not understand a particular topic?
2. level of information:  were the errors dealing with straightforward
facts? with applying information to an example? to more deeper
understanding involving comparisions, contrasts, cause, effect, etc.
Purpose: sometimes a pattern emerges where you see the student is missing
a particular level of knowledge across the subject matter.

If you think you are seeing a topic or level of information pattern in the
errors, check your observation against the questions answered correctly to
see if the hypothesis still holds true.

3. Sit down with the student and go over the exam.  Take an item the
student missed and cover up the multiple choice answers.  Have the student
read the stem of the question.  Have the student restate what is being
asked. THen ask the student from his knowledge, what he knows about the
information being asked. In exploring what he knows, does he have an
answer in mind?  Then reveal one answer at a time and have the student
judge the quality of the choice.  Is it correct, incorrect, or maybe
correct?  Confirm why he thinks a certain choice  or choice is  correct.
Check it against the answer key.

This process is likely to reveal:
- does the student interpret test questions correctly?
- is the student able to discriminate between partially correct and
correct answers?
- the thinking process the student employes in answering a test item and
if there is a flaw in this process.

I have found this process to take a lot of the mystery out of why a good
student is not doing well.  The process enables the student to look at
exam questions objectively without the penalty of a grade and time limits.
It allows you to observe how the student is interpreting, thinking, making
choices which can be affecting test performance.  Unusally, you and
student jointly identify possible sources of the problem and can then
create an action plan based on observable performance rather than on
guessing that the problem may the this or that.

Hope this helps.

Georgine Materniak
University of Pittsburgh

On Mon, 2 Nov 1998, Heather Newburg wrote:

> What suggestions can I give to a student who is struggling with only one
> of his courses?  I have run out of "answers."  Here's the situation.
> John is passing all of his engineering and math courses, but no matter
> how much he studies, he cannot pass any of his tests in his Principles of
> Management or his Psychology 101 course.  The tests are multiple choice and
> essay in the management course and multiple choice in the psych course.
> He understands the material; when he studies with others for management, he
> helps them understand the various concepts, but does poorly on the exams
> while his study partners pass w/ B's.  His study partners tell him that
> they wish they had his study habits and dedication.  When John meets with
> his psych tutor, she says he knows the material but when it comes to the
> tests, he just doesn't do well.  (John is repeating Psych 101.)
> John uses notecards.  He attends class, takes notes, reads the textbook,
> and combines notes from lecture and text.  He studies the subject daily.  He
> studies with others to ensure that his notes are complete and clear.  He can
> recite back information, but when it comes to the testing situation, he does
> not remember (or perhaps know) the material.  He has not been tested for a
> disability, although he does not believe that is the issue.  We've talked
> about test anxiety, but he says he feels relaxed and confident when he
> walks in to take the test.  We've talked about test taking
> techniques...he's doing what he should be.
> What other suggestions can I make that I may be forgetting?  Thanks in
> advance for your help!
> Heather Newburg
> Learning Center Director
> Lake Superior State University
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