I was once invited to tour a factory where I came across a situation. A quality control manager at a precision instrument manufacturing facility designed an exam to test factory employee knowledge of an assembly process. He showed me the exam he had created. It was a fine exam, one that would work well with native English speaking employees who went through the American school system. The exam tested the ability of employees to assemble part of a scientific measurement device. The test included a matching section with a diagram. Many people would interpret it as an easy to understand test that the employees should have no problem acing. However, this was not the case. Less than 10% of forty factory employees passed the test.
A problem with the learning process at a factory
Prior to the exam, the employees of the factory received a lecture on the material to be tested. What was being done to check for understanding of the employees? Did the employees understand the material being presented? The way to improve this process is through formative assessment of the material. In a formative assessment, the trainer checks for employee understanding during the learning process. For instance, if a training session is to be 60 minutes, there can be 2-6 formative assessments that check for understanding. The best way to teach material is to break it down into small, manageable units of learning. This is called chunking. In this case, it could be 10 minutes chunks of content.
A problem with factory test design
There are many different ways to write an exam. Multiple choice, matching, short answer, fill-in-the-blank to name a few. The key with writing an effective exam is to make the exam match the learning abilities and needs of the employees. The exam should be able to test whether the employee knows the material, not whether he or she knows how to take an exam. The way to fix this is to show a sample exam with the style of questions and test whether the employee is able to complete the exam. If the employee is able to complete the sample exam successfully, let’s say in the range of 80%-90%, then you are ready to use that style of testing during the training.
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