Merry Exam Season!

It’s that most wonderful time of year: exam time! There are lots of things to consider while writing an exam:

  • What are your course goals? Design your exam so that you assess whether your students know this material and the relevant skills. What is the best way to assess these skills? Take home exam? Essays? Multiple choice? Short answer? Fill in the blank? Complete the chart? Some combination of the above?
  • How many other exams do your students have? Exam week can be very stressful for your students so making the exam a little easier or shorter may help reduce stress or panic during the exam.
  • How long do you want the exam to take your students? Even though students may have two or three hours, they will get tired and start making silly mistakes.  Is a long exam necessary to test everything they are expected to know?
  • Are questions tricky because they test an unusual form or a rare bit of information?
  • What will the students enjoy answering? I often give students a set of essay questions from which they can choose one or two to write.
  • Are the students allowed a notecard with notes? If so, you may not want to include questions with answers that can be taken directly off the notecard.  This includes types of questions too.  — I am trying this for the first time with Intensive Latin and I am curious to see how it will work.
  • How can you use the test to teach?  Is a list of events to put in chronological order a useful teaching tool?  Which is better pedagogically/logically: requiring students to form an adjective that matches a noun or requiring students to form a noun to match an adjective?
  • Do you use Latin sentences or passages that they have already seen? Similarly, do you make students analyze a passage or an ancient artifact that you have not discussed in class or that you have not shown them?
  • Have students already seen these types of questions, even if only on a practice test or study guide? Is the surprise worth it?
  • Are you going to use images or passages on your test? Are the images clearly legible after they have been photocopied? Is it clear to which image your questions refer?  If you choose to project the image, can your students see the image well and still have enough light to write their answers?
  • If you have slide identification questions from slides at the front of the room, is there enough time for your students to see them again and to complete the rest of the exam? Do you care if your students are able to see the images twice?
  • In a culture-focused class, should the questions on the exam go in chronological order?
  • In a language class, should the sentences tell a story as the students translate each one?

Remember to also encourage students to take a break while studying and get plenty of sleep the night before.  My freshman year of college, one of my favorite professors saw a clearly tired version of me in the hall and told me that if I’d been doing my job and studying all semester, I should go see a movie and relax.  I already knew material.  It was a lesson that I always remember around exam time.

What other things should teachers consider as we write exams?

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