Years into his career as a high school government and history teacher, Benjamin Barbour discovered he’d been making assumptions about his students. Like many teachers, Barbour would instruct students to take notes, without assessing if they knew how. Promoting good note-taking skills has since become one of his passions, and he sprinkles note-taking instruction throughout his lessons. Along the way, Barbour also came up with an ingenious strategy for improving students’ note-taking—he calls it the “test average method.” He tests his students twice, back-to-back: once, when they don’t use their notes (which incentivizes good studying), and a second time, when they use their notes (which incentivizes good note-taking). He then averages their scores. Barbour notes that this technique is more suitable for short subjective tests in multiple choice, matching, or true/false formats—he doesn’t use it for all tests. He relies on his learning management system (LMS) to do the grading and averaging of everything except essay questions so that this tactic is not too time-intensive.
Using this method, Barbour has seen some delightful results. “As we move forward in the semester, I often see the scores on the initial attempt rise significantly. So sometimes the change between the first and the second attempt isn’t that big. And I see this progress with the students where they’re actually taking better notes and studying more. But I think there’s a third, ancillary benefit. It’s reading! Because the students are reading for more comprehension—slower, rereading—to get better notes.”
For more information on Barbour’s test average method, see his article for Edutopia, “A Testing Strategy That Promotes Good Note-Taking Skills.”