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Study Tip: How to Find the Hidden Bias in a Test

Study Tip: How to Find the Hidden Bias in a Test
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    Life isn’t fair. Why should tests be?

    Virtually all tests have have hidden biases. These biases aren’t usually large and most instructors will do their best to minimize it. However, knowing the bias of a test can be an added tool for allocating study time.

    What is a Testing Bias?

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    Testing bias is when a test favors students who understand particular concepts or have particular types of knowledge. An example would be a test that is all definitions. This obviously benefits students who understand the word associations and their meanings. Knowing how different concepts can be applied in real life wouldn’t be as relevant on such a test.

    Sometimes testing bias is intentional. Test creators will format the test so it evaluates the knowledge they want you to have. This is the best type of bias to look out for because it will probably continue into the future. The examiner who wants you to know definitions above all else will continue placing that bias into future tests.

    Sometimes the bias is a by-product of something else. Multiple-choice tests tend to evaluate certain types of understandings more strongly than essay-response tests. Information in a particular format may be difficult to test, so the test makers may bias the test towards concepts that are easier to evaluate.

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    What to Look Out For

    Here are some things to keep in mind when try to find the bias of a test:

    1. Memorization Versus Understanding. Does the test value students who can recite specific definitions and facts? Or does it value a comprehensive understanding more than memorized elements?
    2. Narrow Versus Broad. Does the test value students who can apply information within a narrow context or a broad one? The difference might mean emphasizing study time on specific, practical questions or spending more time thinking about different ways to use the information.
    3. Agreement Versus Quality. If the test has a subjective marking component, does the marker tend to value agreement with stated opinions or original thought? Some markers only want to hear reflections of their stated opinions. Others want you to write something thought provoking. Know the difference.
    4. Average Versus Extreme. What is the standard deviation of grades? Is virtually the same mark given for “showing effort” or are the mark differences high? When a lot of extra effort won’t yield better grades, save your time and invest it where time matters.
    5. Hinting Versus Tricking. Some tests will hint towards the correct answer in the question. Usually this isn’t obvious, but it can come from using words that might cause you to consider the correct choice. Other tests try to avoid this by doing the opposite – intentionally putting in leading words to throw you off-course. This bias can be helpful in evaluating your intuition.

    Those are just a few of the many different biases a test can have. Keep in mind that these biases are usually mild. They should serve as a guide for where you can emphasize study time, but can’t be used as a blueprint to ace a test you know nothing about (in most cases, at least).

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    How to Find a Testing Bias

    Now that you have a few ideas for what to look for, here are some places you can use to start devising a studying strategy:

    1. Past Tests. These are the goldmine of searching for testing bias. Scan through them and any answer keys provided. Not only can they give you generalized biases the test might have (as mentioned above) but also content biases. What specific information is tested repeatedly and what is rarely tested?
    2. Course Outlines. Usually the course will have a broad description of the purpose and evaluation methods of the course. This can be a starting point to uncover any potential biases.
    3. Talk to Past Students. Other students will have a good feel for what kind of biases a test demonstrated, even if they didn’t prepare for it themselves. Get a feel for what kind of questions were asked and where emphasis was placed. Warning: If you are going to use this approach, make sure you ask several students from different periods, otherwise you might be led to believe a test is biased when it was just randomness from that particular version or student.
    4. Ask Your Professor. I don’t find this to be as useful as asking past students. It can reveal any intentional biases, but often neglects the unintentional biases because of testing method. But asking professors can be useful for getting information about what is important and what is not.

    Don’t Obsess About Testing Bias, But Don’t Ignore It

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    Trying to find the testing bias won’t help you if you don’t know anything. Simply use it as a tool to allocate study time. If you realize there is a heavy memorization bias, spend more time with memorization techniques than exploring background concepts. It can also be used in-test when making decisions between several options. If the test has a hinting bias, you can feel more comfortable using your intuition when you aren’t sure.

    That warning said, testing bias does matter. Although I never intentionally go into a test without knowing the subject, I have done few extra-curricular exams that I wasn’t aware I needed to write before the test date. By searching for the testing bias I was able to score high despite not fully understanding many of the concepts covered.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2019

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them

    Procrastination is something many people can relate to and I, myself, have been there and done that. Yes, I write all about productivity now, but when I first started out on my career path, I would often put off work I didn’t want to do. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    So what changed?

    I thought to myself, “why do I procrastinate?” And I started to read a lot of books on productivity, learning a great deal and shifting my mind to the reasons why people procrastinate.

    My understanding brought me a new perspective on how to put an end to the action of procrastination.

    Procrastination slows your goals and dreams way down. It can create stress and feelings of frustration. It rears its ugly head on a regular basis for a lot of people. This is particularly apparent at work with day-to-day projects and tasks.

    But, why do people self-sabotage in this way? Essentially, there are 5 reasons behind procrastination. See if you can identify with any of these in your own work life.

    1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

    Procrastination is sometimes a subconscious fear of failure.

    If you put off a task enough, then you can’t face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results. If you’re a stickler for minor details, the stress of getting things ‘just right’ may be too much and cause you to delay continuing the task.

    Either way, fear is at the root cause and can sabotage your desire to move forward.

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    How to Tackle It?

    Try visualizing the completion of your task in a positive way.

    For example, you have a presentation that your boss wants you to conduct for a potential client. Visualize yourself standing in the meeting room confident, meeting the eyes of the client and seeing them light up as you explain the concept simply and concisely.

    Imagine your boss telling you how great you did and you were the best person for the job. Think about how it would feel to you and focus on this as you move forward with the task.

    2. A Dreamer’s Lack of Action

    This is a person who is highly creative and has many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition.

    The main reason for this is because there’s usually no structure or goal setting involved once the idea has been created. This aimless approach ends up manifesting as a lack of decision-making and significant delays on a project.

    How to Tackle It?

    Write down a timeline of what you want to achieve and by when. Ideally, do this daily to keep yourself on track and accountable for progression. Creative minds tend to jump from one idea to the next, so cultivating focus is essential.

    If you’re designing and creating a new product at work, set out a task list for the week ahead with the steps you want to focus on each day. Doing this ahead of time will stop your mind from wandering across to different ideas.

    Learn about how to plan your time and take actions from some of the successful people: 8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

    3. An Overwhelmed Avoider

    This is one of the most common reasons for procrastination; the sheer overwhelm of a daunting task.

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    The complexity of a task can cause the brain to lose motivation and avoid doing it altogether choosing instead to stay in its comfort zone.

    The search then starts for a more enjoyable task and the harder tasks are put off. This can cause stress and dread when the task inevitably comes up to be completed.

    How to Tackle It?

    Break the challenge down into smaller tasks and tackle each one individually.

    For example, if you have a project that has technical elements to it that you know you’ll find challenging, list each step you need to take in order to complete these difficult elements. Think of ways you can resolve potential hurdles. Perhaps you have a coworker that may have time to help or even consider that the solution may be easier than you initially think. Put each task in order of most daunting to least daunting. Ideally, try to deal with the more challenging parts of each task in the morning so that momentum is created as the tasks get easier through the day.

    A reward system will also help you stay motivated so, once completed, you can enjoy your treat of choice.

    If you want to know how to better handle your feelings and stay motivated, take a look at my other article: Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

    4. The Busy Bee Who Lacks Prioritization

    Either you have too many tasks or don’t truly acknowledge the differing importance of each task. The result? Getting nothing done.

    Time is spent switching constantly from one task to another or spending too much time deciding what to do.

    How to Tackle It?

    It’s all about priorities and choosing important tasks over urgent ones.

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    Make sure to question the value and purpose of each task and make a list in order of importance.

    For example, throughout your work day, you can waste a lot of time dealing with ‘urgent’ emails from colleagues but, you need to ask yourself if these are more important than working on a task that will affect, say, several office projects at once.

    Help yourself to prioritize and set a goal of working through your list over the next few hours reassessing the situation once the time is up.

    In my other article, I talk about an effective way to prioritze and achieve more in less time: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    5. The One with Shiny Object Syndrome (Distraction-Prone)

    This is another common cause for procrastination; just simple distraction.

    Our brains aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time and it looks for something else. So throw in a bunch of colleagues equally looking for distractions or checking your phone mindlessly, and you’ve got a recipe for ultimate procrastination.

    However, this type of procrastination may not always be an unconscious decision to sabotage and put off work. It’s simply a result of your work setup or types of coworkers you have. Only you know the answer to that.

    How to Tackle It?

    Be mindful of your workspace and potential distractions. Schedule a specific time to converse with your coworkers, put headphones on to minimize listening to what’s going on around you, and switch your phone off.

    Aim to do this for 20-30 minutes at a time and then take a break. This will be a much more efficient way of working and getting what you need done. This is also why scheduling down time is so important for productivity.

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    Whether this type of procrastination is self-sabotage or being a victim of a distracting environment, either way you can take control.

    If you need a little more guidance on how to stay focus, this guide can help you: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Bottom Line

    I’m going to be bold and assume you identified with at least one of these procrastination pitfalls.

    You could be trapped in the endless cycle of procrastination like I was, that is, until I decided to find out my why behind putting off tasks and projects. It was only then that I could implement strategies and move forward in a positive and productive way.

    I killed the procrastination monster and so can you. I now complete my tasks more efficiently and completely killed that feeling of stress and falling behind with work that procrastination brings.

    I know it’s not easy to stop procrastinating right away, so I also have this complete guide to help you stop it once and for all: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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