There are two types of assessments, the ongoing class tests and practical reports then the final exam / internal assessment.
I used to use past IB questions from the beginning of the course but it soon became apparent that they are too difficult. Too difficult is probably the wrong way of putting it, what I should say is that students couldn't do them, this was often due to the complexity of the language used and the rather indirect way some of the questions are asked rather than the actual difficulty of the concept being tested.
In total, there are approximately 1029 electrons in the atoms making up a person. Estimate the electrostatic force of repulsion between two people standing 100 m apart as a result of these electrons.
This is testing to see if he student can apply the equation F = kQq/r2 . It would be more straight forward to simply say the charge was placed on two spheres 100 m apart, the bit about the people is confusing and in fact means that the question can't really be answered. A good students will also be confused knowing that the -ve charge of the electrons is canceled out by the +ve charge on the nucleus. It's good to give questions a little twist but sometime they go too far.
I give my students 10 min tests every class to encourage them to read class notes between lessons. It works to some extent although sometimes the review is happening as I hand out the test papers. The tests are quite easy but to score top marks in all of them has never been done. Towards the end of the course I start to use real past questions instead of the tests.
The relentless small tests mean that I know pretty well how my students are progressing so don't feel the need for so many longer tests, I also find using a whole lesson to do a test isn't good use of valuable class time however with the new slightly lighter syllabus it might be possible use more time on this that I have in the past. Students who score badly in the short tests often ask for more long exams like they have in other subjects. They feel that they could do better in a one off exam since they can prepare more thoroughly for it, this shows that they have missed the point. The whole reason for the short test is to make sure students come to class prepared, with the added bonus that I can monitor their progress. It's possible for a student to sleep through a whole topic but do well on an exam by revising thoroughly the night before, this is not a good way to study.
At the end of the first year my students have a first year exam. This is made up of IB questions from Standard level papers 1 and 2. The marks, along with their average test scores help me decide on the grade that goes on their transcript. I use about 30 multiple choice + a data based question from paper 2 (will be paper 3 when we get some new exams), 2 short section A questions and one section B. That's enough for 2 hours. Grades are awarded according to the approximate scale:
The trial exam is in March and consists of paper 1 and 2 from the previous year, I always tell my student this so they can avoid practicing these papers. One or two see this as a possibility to cheat but most don't.
Marking lab work
With the old IA it was possible to assess many different labs so there was a lot of regular marking of reports, first in the practice phase then for real. In a typical 2 year course I would mark on average 10 reports for each students this would range from 20 for a super keen student to the minimum of 2. Now there is only one investigation so only one has to be marked however students need to learn many skills so will need feedback. My students learn lab skills by performing a series of different labs over the first year of the course, each of these labs can be handed in for feedback but once a student is confident that they know what they are doing they don't have to submit a report, I couldn't possibly mark 60 labs each week! This hasn't worked too well, the hand in rate has been much lower than when the reports counted towards the IA. This year I will try a different strategy, I will insist on certain reports being handed in.
When I mark a lab report I try to be encouraging but comments inevitably tend to point out mistakes. I mark electronically using text boxes rather than word comments. I like this way since it looks more personal and easier to see what the comment is directed to. The main purpose of marking lab reports is to provide feedback so students can learn from mistakes and continue doing what's good. Lab reports also show whether a student is understanding the concepts. It doesn't require a deep understanding to explain what is supposed to happen but to explain what actually happens does. Writing lab reports is about the only time in the course that students are required to evaluate, discuss, analyse and compare, all high level applications of knowledge. I often refer to good examples of labwork when writing teacher recommendations for US universities.
To help students know what is required I have many exemplar reports on this website with the old IA I couldn't let my students see most of these since it would constitute too much help (way too much).
The investigation is assessed internally and then moderated, there is a whole section on this so no need to go into more detail here.
This is the ultimate test and everything we do is directed towards success in this. That is not to say we should be totally exam focused but at the end of the day the exam is testing a students knowledge of physics which is exactly what we are trying to teach. I certainly go beyond the syllabus from time to time but make sure I cover everything that could be on the exam. Again, there is a whole section on The Exam (which needs to be updated soon) so no need to go into the details here.
Assessment isn't just for the teacher to know how the student is doing it is also to help the student judge if they have understood a concept or not and this can be done without handing anything in to be marked by the teacher. I tell my students from the start of the course, and remind them regularly, that they are expected to work through the text book problems in between classes. The solutions to these problems are online but if they don't understand the solution they can always ask. If they want more practice they can try the online Multiple Choice tests either on this website or the e book version of my text (yes they are all different). If they want more they can try the Problems and if they are too easy I give then a copy of Giancoli. A good student will continually be testing their own understanding in this way.
Students need to know how they are doing so we give them feedback in the way of marks, comments and reports. We also need to know how we are doing so need to be open to feedback from the students. This is best done as an ongoing process but can also be tackled with one off questionnaires and interviews. I like to think that there is a continual flow of feedback to and from my students but that might be only in my imagination so I also give a questionnaire once a term. This is hosted on Quia to be filled in online.