Aren`t they? International Students`

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Transcript Aren`t they? International Students`

Exams are Exams! Aren’t they?
International Students’ experiences
BALEAP June 25th 2011
Dr Nick Pilcher [email protected]
Lecturer in in-sessional EAP ENUBS
Edinburgh Napier University
• Funded by the Centre for Sociology,
Anthropology and Politics Subject Centre (part of
the Higher Education Academy)
• Specific call on Internationalisation, targeted at
the Scottish sector
Investigate international students first
experiences of exams from three key questions:
1.‘What experiences of exams do ‘international
students’ arrive with?’
2.‘What are their expectations of exams?’
3.‘What was their experience here of exams?’
Dr Karen Smith [email protected]
Caledonian Academy
Glasgow Caledonian University
Dr Jackie Riley [email protected]
Director of International Development
(Engineering and Computing)
Glasgow Caledonian University
Importance of assessment
• Assessment important in higher education
• Different types of assessment task (presentations;
case studies; portfolios; exams) (Toohey, 1999)
• Movements towards ‘innovative’ assessment
(Hounsell et al, 2007)
• BUT - examinations still play major role in
students’ assessment diet – (and may be
increasing again)
Existing literature
• Much assessment related-research
– E.g. preparation for exams; exam room practices;
different types of exam (e.g. Tal et al, 2008)
• Exams and international students
– Mainly just around level of English (e.g. Smith, 2011)
• Much student-focused guidance
– Little of which is aimed at international students
specifically - except Palgrave’s International Student
Handbook (Reinders et al, 2008)
• Interviews (21 students) – before and after – tool
designed with aims of giving control to interviewees
(Foucault 1973), made participatory (Fontana and
Frey 2005; Christians 2005)
• Survey: 168 students (88 ENU 80 GCU) 56%
male; 44% female
• Based on areas from general exam advice texts
(e.g. Blass 2009, McMillan and Weyers 2010;)
Exam Format
Exam Environment
Preparation and Revision
Exam format – back at home
Language – back at home
Exam format – back at home
“exams lasted 4 to 5
hours... [I – So you were 4
or 5 hours in a room
writing?] Yeh”(France).
“for example if you have a different
point of view from the one stated in
the book and you write it you might
not have any marks”(Ukraine).
“the biggest things with
the exams is the teacher
gets to be as creative as
they want, they have a lot
of freedom to do whatever
they want” (USA).
Exam format – in the UK
“sometimes you need to
think the structure of the
sentence in English but in
Chinese you don't need to
think” (China).
“what was surprising… was the
referencing work that we had to
do because in France we don’t
have to refer to a source or stuff
like that that much. If you don’t
read it’s okay” (France).
“I cannot get used to... maybe
the question arrangement…in
China just one part one point but
here one part several points...
the answer so I have to divide it
in several parts and explain
many points... it’s much difficult
to get higher points” (China).
Exam format – in the UK (cont.)
“One thing that was new that
I’ve never done before and…
I think it hurt me on my
exams it was to source... I
didn’t realise I had to read a
document and then think
about who wrote that and
remember that and source it
while writing” (USA).
“lecturers make a close
connection between exams
and what is taught. It was not
like that in Nigeria” (Nigeria).
Environment – back at home
In your home country were any of the following tolerated in the exam room?
Answer Options
Always %
Sometimes %
Never %
Use of mobile phones
Use of MP3 players
General talking
Talking about the exam
Passing notes to each other
Passing stationery to each other
Passing calculators to each other
Leaving the room for a break
Going to the rest rooms
Environment – back at home
In your home country were you aware of any of the following happening?
Answer Options
Always %
Sometimes %
Never %
Buying the exam paper prior to the exam
Taking notes into the exam
Gaining knowledge of the questions in
Influencing the marker
Environment – back at home
“95% of students will bribe
their lecturers to get a better
mark. Male students pay in
cash, female students in
cash and kind” (Nigeria).
“they keep the classrooms
colder usually because it
helps you stay
“they want you to be quiet and that is
understandable but no-one is quiet… they’re
all chatting away and waiting and some people
get their exam… you hear people whispering
the answers to each other” (Holland)
Environment – back at home (cont.)
“they have some GPS or
some police they call
technology police… test if
anyone… [makes a]… text
message or something very
like spy things I don’t
know…” (Taiwan)
“I think it would be easier
to cheat in the States
because I did it all the
time” (USA)
“Well I got away a few times… but
I suppose it was only... maybe key
words to remember parts of things
but no proper cheating... I wouldn’t
do that… [I – Right OK so there’s a
scale of cheating] Yeh I suppose
so (laughs)” (Spain)
Preparation - sources
Sources used
PG and UG usage
Use of Recommended text
books – in home country
Use of Recommended text
books – in Scotland
Other text books – in home
Other text books – in
Recommended web sources
in Scotland
Recommended web sources –
in home country
PG students made sig. more use of these
than UG students
*Not statistically significant at 5% level but
still PG student made more use of these
than UG students
PG students made sig. more use of these
than UG students
PG students made sig. more use of these
than UG students
PG students made sig. more use of these
than UG students
PG students made sig. more use of these
than UG students
Preparation – sources – at home
“it’s usually just textbook
material and like some
slides from lecturers... I just
read through that a couple
of times” (Slovenia).
“if teacher want to give you surprise you
can’t see the question... but if teacher is
good enough the exam will not let you
surprise it’s all you know” (China)
“using an analogy, supposing that you were supposed to
have covered say 100 metres in a course and then you
could only cover, or the lecturer decides that you should
cover 40 and then he expects you to go on and get the
other 60 on your own… when you get to the exam you
discover that most of the questions are from that 60 as
against the 40 that you’ve been taught” (Nigeria)
Preparation – sources – in UK
“I regret... next semester I will revise”
“should have gone through the
coursework and look for similar
questions in the textbooks… will
do this in the next semester”
“I realised really late the night before or the
day before the test only that our teacher is
expecting a lot from us like… to submit the
notes or any references… he was like read
more and more of this stuff... if we knew this
before we would work really hard… I did my
best in it but I do feel really guilty” (Oman)
Preparation - Strategies
When comparing their revision behavior, again at home and in Scotland
via Chi-Square Tests, there were no significant factors found at the 5%
level. However the tendency to revise with friends (P=0.067) and to
memorize large amounts of information (P=0.09) both showed increases
in Scotland.
Preparation Strategies
 Prefer to revise with friends
 Prefer to revise on your own
 Attempt past papers
 Review your answers against past paper solutions
 Attend revision classes.
 Seek individual assistance from faculty members
 Memorise large amounts of information
Preparation – strategies – at home
“Chinese people always study alone they seldom
talk or discuss in groups I think it doesn’t help too
much because... the personal conditions is not
same [I – So group work’s not effective]
Preparation – strategies – in UK
“we lead the teamwork... [I – your experience was in China you
worked individually] Yeh [I – Whereas here you worked as part
of a team] Yeh” (China).
“the only thing I was surprised was with the… open book exam... the tutor he
told us that we can like make notes and prepare notes… but the other guys…
just wrote answers which they thought they will appear… and then they just
copied the their essays on to those sheets… one English guy he write down
14 pages through the exam I managed to write 8 [I – What mark did he get?]
[Distinction]…so I actually thought so next time when I know there will be an
open exam… I will think about the answers and prepare the answers”
Preparation – strategies – in UK (cont.)
“in Nigeria when exams approach... you would typically wake
up in the middle of the night and put in an hour or two and
then sleep back. It’s difficult here you know as when you
wake up it’s cold you wouldn’t want to leave that bed so you
lie down with your book and you spend like 10/15 minutes
and you realise you are just deceiving yourself and close the
book (laughs)” (Nigeria)
Where are Exams effective?
Overall students feel their home exam system is
more effective:
Where are Exams effective?
Results: at one institution most students were disappointed their results
had not been higher.
At the other most students were generally pleased, although one student
said that they “would definitely change the advice I would give to other
students. The way they want an answer to the question is really different
here in the UK than in the Netherlands. Here they want you to write a
complete essay as an answer to every question while in Holland they just
want the answer and that's it. I think this might be where I went wrong”
Exam questions and preparation
• The data showed that exam question types were similar around the
world; familiarity with questions types led most students to prepare as
they had done at home
• Some students:
– Increased amount of study time
– Revised in groups
• External factors (e.g. weather) impacted on some study regimes
Exam answers
• BUT – what was required in the exams differed
Use of references
Use of examples
Introducing own opinion
Level of detail
Links between course content and exam
• Challenges of academic English and timing
• Some students realised too late, often after the exam, that these
differences existed
– Explains why some were disappointed with their results
• Issue of lack of time for acculturation combined with ‘high stakes’
exam room environment
• Stress increased due to unfamiliarity with exam room
– Different expectations of regulations and protocol
– Different understandings of cheating
– Pressures of time
– Challenge of academic English
• Previous experiences clearly impacted on
students’ expectations of how to prepare for and
sit UK exams
• Cannot expect lecturers to be aware of different
exams systems, so:
– Give early feedback on exam-like tasks (Yorke, 2001)
– Encourage active participation in assessment matters (Ridley, 2009)
– Take time early in semester to discuss what is expected in an exam (Price et al,
We found that
The term ‘exam’ can encompass many things and for international
students, the format could be very different, the environment could be
very different, and what is expected in an answer could also be very
different. Not only this, but people’s approaches to studying and
understanding of the purpose of exams could also be different.
Awareness and exploration or these issues very early on after arrival
would, we believe, help overcome these differences and help
international students perform better in their exams.
Blass, E. (2009). Succeeding in exams & assessments. Harlow: Pearson
Education. British Council
accessed January 2010
Christians, C.G (2005) Ethics and Politics in Qualitative Research. In Denzin,
N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. The SAGE handbook of qualitative research. Thousand
Oaks: Sage Publications.
Fontana, A and Frey, J.H. (2005) The interview. From neutral stance to
political involvement. In Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. The SAGE handbook
of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Foucault, M (1973) Truth and Juridical Forms, In Faubion, J.D (Ed) (2000)
Essential Works of Foucault. Volume 3. Power. New York: the New Press
Hounsell, D. et al (2007) Innovative assessment across the disciplines: an
analytical review of literature, York: HEA
References continued
McMillan, K., & Weyers, J. (2007). How to succeed in exams and assessments. Harlow:
Prentice Hall.
Price, M. et al (2010) If I was going there I wouldn’t start from here: a critical
commentary on current assessment practices, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher
Education, ifirst
Reinders, H. et al. (2008) The International Student Handbook, Basingstoke: Palgrave
Ridley, D. (2004) Puzzling experiences in higher education: critical moments for
conversation, Studies in Higher Education, 29(1), 91-107
Smith, C. (2011) Examinations and the ESL student – more evidence of particular
disadvantages, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(1), 13-25
Tal, I. R. et al (2008) Effect of paper colour and question order on exam performance,
Teaching of Psychology, 35(1), 26-28
Toohey, S. (1999) Designing courses for higher education, Buckingham: SRHE & OUP
Yorke, M. (2001) Formative assessment and its relevance to retention, Higher
Education Research and Development, 20(2), 115-126