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The Search for the Perfect Vocabulary Quiz

I have been really concerned about my students’ ability to meet my vocabulary course’s objective. I mean, I want to be sure that students have learned to use some new academic vocabulary words. Otherwise, the class is pointless. For me, this has meant designing meaningful activities, but also it has meant creating good assessments. At the beginning of the course, I used several different methods of assessment. I had them write sentences with only the vocabulary word as a prompt. I had them read a paragraph and answer multiple choice vocabulary questions. But, I had a hard time with both of these assessments. They didn’t seem to really test all of the aspects of knowing a word and the students wanted a consistent quiz format. Maybe you have the perfect quiz format…I was still searching.

But I found the answer! I decided to change the assessment so it tested both productive and receptive vocabulary knowledge. Productive knowledge is knowledge of how to use the word. Productive knowledge was assessed with “use in a sentence” questions. Full credit was given to students who demonstrated knowledge of the words’ meaning and grammar. And let me tell you, few people got perfect scores! So I also tested their receptive knowledge or their ability to understand the words in context. I gave them questions that required students to understand target words in order to complete some writing task. For example, “Describe a traditional holiday” or “Explain the process of buying a book.” For these questions, they were not required to use the new word in the answer, but they had to be able to accurately answer the question. Together, I feel these two groups of questions give me a sense of their total understanding of the new words. Now, I know whether students had trouble understanding the words or whether they have trouble using them.

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