Exams

We’re a few weeks into the semester. Most courses are in full swing, and students likely have submitted their first assignments or will do so shortly. For those courses with exams, the exams are coming (if they haven’t already arrived!).

Here are a few good resources about creating multiple-choice tests. First, from the eLearning Coach Connie Malamed, 10 rules for writing multiple choice exams. I’m generally rule-averse, but I do think that these are wise guidelines. I’m not as opposed to “All of the above” and “None of the above” questions as she is, but I think this varies with your subject matter and learning objectives.

As an instructor, it’s hard to write multiple-choice questions where the right answer is clear and the incorrect answers are wrong, yet close enough to be plausible. Questions can’t be too easy, but no one wants a test where the possibility of misconstruing answers leaves students feeling as if the exam was intentionally misleading. Consider this quote from the article cited below:

The thing about multiple-choice questions is that the answer is right there on the screen. So the challenge as question-writers is to construct the question and its answer choices in such a way that the learner really has to master the objective in order to select the correct choice.

So how do you write really, really good questions? What do bad questions look like? And how do you use the data from students’ incorrect answers to help you build better questions in the future? This article is full of good examples, tips, and references.

This is also a great resource on writing multiple-choice questions for higher-order thinking. I find it exceptionally helpful to see both the “standard” question and the question that has been re-worked to stress higher-order thinking skills.

Think multiple-choice questions function best in subjects that put a premium on calculations? This is a great article detailing the mechanics of using comprehension-based multiple-choice questions in a communications course. I love the idea of letting students bring in a sheet of handwritten notes; the cynic in me would either keep these notes or perhaps mark them in some way in order to prevent re-use by future students.

Last, it feels fitting to offer a small reminder about resources for creating rubrics. Rubrics are useful for essay, short answer, or performance items. You might first write something that summarizes your own grading observations, then revise the rubric and share it with students as you communicate information about the exam. If you’re not distributing the question in advance, you can still share the rubric, removing any identifying details that would give away the question or skill to be demonstrated. You may find that using a rubric makes the writing or demonstration process more comprehensible for your students, and the reading or grading process easier and more consistent for you.

Of course, exams aren’t the only way to measure student learning (hardly!). We have posts coming on project-based learning, groupwork dynamics, and alternate research assignments. Stay tuned!

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