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How I Write Exams

During the last week, I’ve been working on writing final exam questions for two of my three classes. One of the first things I do is re-read my syllabus and sketch out the concepts that seem the most relevant to include on the exam. The next thing I do is re-read my old- final exam questions and see if any of the old questions are worth recycling or augmenting for the exam at hand.

Then, once I have an array of questions put together I think about the class. What has attendance and participation been like for this section. Did the class demonstrate that they have paid attention to the material. Yes, a really strong class can benefit with the possibility of an exam geared for them. I am certainly not saying an easier exam, but maybe one less question than I would normally assign.

Attendance and participation is an important component in my classes, so I will include a question or two that requires notes or memory from an in class discussion or lecture. And, the students who attended class benefit from this particular question. Regardless of the exam or the group, the marking will not change. I have my expectations for what constitutes a strong, good, satisfactory or poor response and most terms the bell curve is good. During the last year or so, I have offered a take home exam option and most of the students appreciate this. The only negative (according to them) is that my expectations are higher with the take home exam. The win for me is that the exams are typed and easier to read.

I have to stagger my grading between the three classes. My expectations are markedly different for a first year course response compared to a third or fourth year, so I have the grading for one course done before I move to the next course. It is just the way I work. I started marking first year papers last week and will get to third and fourth year exams at this week’s end. Then, the next week papers in the advanced classes. I am really looking forward to the students’ exams and papers. Why? I get to see how the students have engaged the course materials. And, for the most part, it is gratifying to read their assignments.

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