Autobiographical Final Exam for ESL Grammar Students

Submitted by Laraine Bosse on

In ESL Grammar 2, I’ve offered a standard exercise final exam. The average 79% score was not acceptable. I developed a more authentic “end of the semester” way to bring together all the information offered in this grammar course. I assigned a guided autobiography.  At the class prior to the final exam, students were shown a presentation and given colored notecards. I asked them to write ideas on the notecards related to each section of the presentation. At the end of this class, I collected the notecards. At the final exam, I handed back the notecards.  Students used those to write their autobiography on the guided exam. 

Using the new format, the average score was 84.4%, a 6.4% increase.  Students were only graded on grammar. I will use this test again. Next semester I plan to prepare the students earlier and correct a few  ambiguities.

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Average: 4.3 (3 votes)


Jennifer Copeland Mon, 08/17/2015 - 10:23am

It is evident the care and consideration you put into this project to increase your students understanding. Great job!

Bronwen Steele Thu, 08/20/2015 - 11:09am

It will be interesting to see how your results shift once you address the ambiguities. This is a very interesting idea and a nice positive outcome.

Olga Tsoudis Thu, 08/27/2015 - 11:14am

Laraine, The guided autobiography is much more interesting for the student. Can you provide more information on the presentation that was shown to the students? Olga

Laraine Bosse Sat, 08/29/2015 - 11:23pm

In reply to by Olga Tsoudis

Thanks for your question Olga.

We had already done two full classes of review before the Final Presentation, so there had been a good summary of the semester.  Students were enthusiastic to try something new.  We went through the presentation very thoroughly before I gave them time to fill in their index cards.  I walked around the room to make sure everyone understood the process.  Although I gave them the option to make up a story, no one was inclined to do that.  They were very happy to share their story and their dreams.

Jamie Lopez Sat, 09/12/2015 - 11:14am

Laraine- I love this real use of the key ideas presented in your grammar course. I would imagine that your students were engaged and enthusiastic about the task. I especially appreciated the clause where you allow students to create and "imaginary" life. It mediates the desire to "opt out". Well done! -Jamie

Laraine Bosse Tue, 09/22/2015 - 9:10pm

In reply to by Jamie Lopez

Thanks!  I think it's important to respect students' privacy, but it's also very important to give them skills to express their personal ideas and needs.  Sometimes in class we pretend we are characters, animals or make-believe professions just to be able to use the language without any risk.  Students may be able to focus more that way, I believe.

Peter Turner Tue, 09/15/2015 - 9:01am

Laraine, you truly addressed all the components of a good CATS.  Did the students know (as they filled out their notecards) that they would be using these in their final exam? Also, I would be interested to see what these cards look like.

Laraine Bosse Tue, 09/22/2015 - 8:47pm

In reply to by Peter Turner

The cards were index cards.  Each student was given 4 colors.  Each color represented a verb tense and the imperative.  I did tell the students that they were to put notes for ideas for the final exam.  I tried to emphasize that simply writing words would allow them to put more on the card - as opposed to trying to write complete sentences at that point.  I collected the cards at the end of the class before the final and then passed them back out before the test.  Students seemed comfortable with the process.

Erik Huntsinger Tue, 09/15/2015 - 1:31pm

Laraine, I really liked this new final exam as it is very authentic by nature.  Do you believe the students did better because it was more reflective of their actual abilities (relative to the standard final) or was this layout better aligned with their prior learning or ability to study?

Laraine Bosse Tue, 09/22/2015 - 8:56pm

In reply to by Erik Huntsinger

Thank you!  As I was developing the process for this final, I paid special attention to step-by-step instructions and lots of foundational preparation, since it was a different kind of exam.  Once the exam was completed, I could tell the detailed preparation was really helpful for several reasons... It provided good review of the subject material outside the framework of the textbook, it relaxed the students and it created a sense of community as the students worked on their personal stories and asked questions.  I also liked explaining how to create study notes.  That was new for me with ESL.

Diane Stonebrink Wed, 09/16/2015 - 1:07pm

Hi Laraine!

I think the authentic nature of the exam is a wonderful assessment of students' abilities too.  I think they would see the usefulness and practicality of this too.  I know some students from other cultures are baffled by the traditional multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, random/disjointed contexts typically found on textbook generated and traditional objective/standardized exams, and wonder how showing their knowledge on such a test relates to being able to use appropriate grammar in real life.  I think your redo of the test addresses these issues.

Laraine Bosse Tue, 09/22/2015 - 9:01pm

In reply to by Diane Stonebrink

Thanks very much, Diane.  I agree that it was good to get out of the textbook and review what we had learned in a more personally authentic way.  I hope they gained some confidence in using the language out in the world.