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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 February 25, 2020

    What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

    What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

    Ah, Inbox Zero. An achievement that so many of us long for. It’s elusive. It’s a productivity benchmark. It’s an ongoing battle.

    It’s also unnecessary.

    Don’t get me wrong, the way Inbox Zero was initially termed is incredibly valuable. Merlin Mann coined the phrase years ago and what he has defined it as goes well beyond the term itself.[1]

    Yet people have created their own definition of Inbox Zero. They’re not using it with the intent that Mann suggested. Instead, it’s become about having nothing left in immediate view. It’s become about getting your email inbox to zero messages or having an empty inbox on your desk that was once filled with papers. It’s become about removing visual clutter.

    But it’s not about that. Not at all.

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    Here’s what inbox zero actually is, as defined by Mann:

    “It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

    The Fake Inbox Zero

    The sense of fulfillment one gets from clearing out everything in your inbox is temporary at best, disappointing at worst. Often we find that we’re shooting for Inbox Zero just so that we can say that we’ve got “everything done that needed to be done”. That’s simply not the case.

    Certainly, by removing all of your things that sit in your inbox means that they are either taken care of or are well on their way to being taken care of. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often applied to clearing out your inbox. But unless you’ve actually done something with the stuff, it’s either not worth having in your inbox in the first place or is still sitting in your “mental inbox”.

    You have to do something with the stuff, and for many people, that is a hard thing to do. That’s why Inbox Zero – as defined by Mann – is not achieved as often as many people would like to believe. It’s this “watered down” concept of Inbox Zero that is completed instead. You’ve got no email in your inbox and you’ve got no paper on your desk’s inbox. So that must mean you’re at Inbox Zero.

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    Until the next email arrives or the next document comes your way. Then you work to get rid of those as quickly as possible so that you can get back to Inbox Zero: The Lesser again. If it’s something that can be dealt with quickly, then you get there. But if they require more time, then soon you’ve got more stuff in your inboxes. So you switch up tasks to get to the things that don’t require as much time or attention so that you can get closer to this stripped down variation of Inbox Zero.

    However, until you deal with the bigger items, you don’t quite get there. Some people feel as if they’ve let themselves (or others) down if they don’t get there. And that, quite frankly, is silly. That’s why this particular version of Inbox Zero doesn’t work.

    The Ultimate Way to Get to Inbox Zero

    So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero?

    Have zero inboxes.

    The inbox is meant to be a stop along the way to your final destination. It’s the place where stuff sits until you’re ready to put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it.

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    So why not skip the inbox altogether? Why not put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it? Because that requires immediate action. It means you need to give the item some thought and attention.

    You need to step back and look at it rather than file it. That’s why we have a catch-all inbox, both for email and for analog items. It allows us to only look at these things when we’re ready to do so.

    The funny thing is that we can decide when we’re ready to without actually looking at the inbox beforehand. We can look at things on our own watch rather than when we are alerted to or feel the need to.

    There is no reason why you need an inbox at all to store things for longer than it sits there before you see it. None. It’s a choice. And the choice you should be making is how to deal with things when you first see them, rather than when to deal with things you haven’t looked at yet.

    Stop Faking It

    Seeing things in your inboxes is simply using your sight. Looking at things in your inbox when you first see them is using insight.

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    Stop checking email more than twice per day. Turn off your alerts. Put your desk’s inbox somewhere that it can be accessed by others and only accessed by you when you’re ready to deal with what’s in it. Don’t put it on your desk – that’s productivity poison.

    If you want to get to Inbox Zero — the real Inbox Zero — then get rid of those stops along the way. You’ll find that by doing that, you’ll be getting more of the stuff you really want done finished much faster, rather than see them moving along at the speed of not much more than zero.

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    Featured photo credit: Web Hosting via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Merlin Mann: Inbox Zero

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