The better written the exam is, the better picture you’ll have of the students’ understanding.
Types of exams
Long answer question assess critical thinking and application of knowledge. (Essay, short answer essay and calculations problems). Short answer questions assess knowledge of facts. (True/false, matching, fill in the blank, multiple choice.)
Writing an exam
- Gather resources—computerized test banks, other textbooks’ practice/review problems, quizzes
- Look through the assignments for that chapter to determine what concepts you stressed
- Look back at the goals/outcomes for that chapter
- Make a rough draft with more questions than you’ll need so that you can narrow down.
- Go through and answer all of the questions on the rough draft, keeping track of your time
- Eliminate the questions you determined you didn’t like and any others necessary to make the test fit into the necessary time frame
- Make an answer key for your final copy (even though you did it for the rough draft).
Tips for writing exams
To make short answer questions more difficult:
- Multiple-choice: Require correct work shown on quantitative questions to eliminate awarding points for correct guessing
- Matching: Have more options than questions so they cannot “process of elimination” on the last few
- True/False: Have them correct false statements, or explain why they’re false
- Fill in the bank: Don’t provide a word bank
Tips for writing multiple-choice questions:
- Don’t worry about patterns in correct answers
- Use a test randomizer if you can
- When writing “false” answer choices, anticipate their mistakes
Tips for writing free response questions:
- Break questions into steps (a, b, c, etc.) for lower or regular level students to lead them through multi-step problems, but leave it as one question for higher-level students
- Try not to carry on information too long from previous problems.
- Be specific…if you want them to “explain”, then asked for an explanation or ask “Why or why not.”
For grading free response:
- Go through the exam and determine how many points each question is worth ahead of time
- How many points will you deduct for missing/incorrect significant figures or units?
- Try to anticipate common mistakes students will make and determine a point value for that mistake.
- If you see a common mistake as you go through and grade them, be sure to note how many points you are taking off so that you can be consistent
- Give partial credit
- Determine where they went wrong and give a percentage of the credit for the percentage that they did correctly
- When determining how much partial credit you’re going to give, keep in mind the purpose of the questions.
- Don’t allow them to rephrase questions when asked to explain something.
Rubrics are a grading guide when teachers are required to grade subjectively and they can be used for project, presentations, papers, essays, formal lab write-ups, etc. Each category doesn’t need to be the same number of points Use Rubistart (http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php) as a good starting point
General grading tips:
- Always keep in mind what a problem is worth when taking points off—is their mistake really worth a 50% on that question or should you take off less points?
- Consider throwing out questions that are worded poorly, caused confusion or didn’t cover content that was stressed in class.
- Consider grading on a sliding scale for difficult exams so that students that deserve a high grade based on their performance on the exam end up with one
- Expect final exams to have low scores—they are difficult in science with all the different content covered in the course!