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Designing better exams means applying the same assessment principles as you would in designing any other assessment task.
Like other assessment tasks, examinations can be used to gauge both student learning, and the efficacy of the learning process. So, we must ensure that the cognitive skills examined during the examination are constructively aligned to the skills required by the subject learning outcomes.
The primary aim with examination questions is to provide students with a platform to demonstrate their knowledge and their ability to apply the knowledge in a context relevant to the subject learning outcomes.
A fixed response can be explained as an objective response where students select the correct response to a question, or supply a word or short phrase to answer a question or complete a statement. For example, multiple choice, true-false, matching or fill-in-the-blank questions.
A constructed response is a subjective narrative that challenges students to create an original answer. For example: short answer, long answer, essay, or performance test items.
The verbs in the learning outcome can provide direction towards the choice of the question type. Some verbs such as identify, list, and select clearly indicate that students need to select the response. If the question is written in such a way that a student has to reason in order to select a correct response, student actions such as analyse or compare could be included in the selection of answers. Generally, verbs such as analyse, apply, interpret, compare, infer and predict indicate that a student should construct a response.
For instance, if the subject learning outcome is expecting the student to be able to synthesis information; then multiple choice questions (MCQ) would not serve as an appropriate assessment tool. Instead, a long answer question with clarity and emphasis on the importance of the student’s ability to synthesis information should be given. However, having MCQ as an assessment does not always mean that the questions are meant to evaluate lower order cognitive skills. MCQ type questions can be constructed to assess higher order cognitive skills like analyse, compare, judge etc.
To gain a greater understanding of potential student actions for different question types, you could review Bloom's or SOLO Taxonomy.
There are many different exam formats. Some examples are:
You may want to map the questions against the subject learning outcomes, knowledge level, degree of difficulty, etc to gain an understanding of coverage of the outcomes and whether the right level of challenge has been achieved.
The exam may also combine different formats such as multiple choice and case based questions.
Use this list to sense check your exam.
We also talk about exams having the following characteristics of:
Another aspect of designing an exam is to consider strategies to deter cheating.
In some cases, an alternate assessment type may provide a preferable method to assess a student's knowledge of learning outcomes.
To discuss an alternate assessment type, please log a service request.
Writing effective exam questions can take time and lots of redrafting. Consider working with others to write questions or to bounce ideas off.