The Relevance of Essay Questions for my Life Science Class

I teach at Quality Schools International (QSI) in Sarajevo, Bosnia. QSI distinguishes between A-level learning and B-level learning by how students can use the information they have learned. B-level questions on a unit test are those that test to see if the student has mastered the learning objectives for that unit. A- level questions on a unit test show the teacher that the student has not only mastered the learning objectives, but that they can also use that information and apply it to another situation.

I use essay questions in my unit tests to see how students can apply their learning to new situations. An example of this is a question from my last test in which students learned about photosynthesis and also cellular respiration. The essay question was this:

Suppose a volcano threw so much ash into the air that it blocked much of the sunlight. How might this event affect the ability of animals to obtain energy to live?

Other essay questions I may use will ask the students to compare or contrast two processes. I may also ask their opinion of what is the most important part of a process or a part of a cell and why they answered the question in that way.

Essay questions play an important part in my assessments because I can find out how the students are thinking and how they can think about information when asked to apply it to a new situation (Shermis, 2011, p. 192). I want to know their opinion and give them an opportunity to show me their thought process and creativity.

Shermis, M.S. & DiVesta, F.J. (2011). Classroom Assessment in Action. Lanham, MD: Rowan &    Littlefield.

Shermis, M.S. & DiVesta, F.J. (2011). Classroom Assessment in Action. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.

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