Online Exams in Pearson LearningStudio

First, a secret: although this task goes by the moniker “exam,” you can use a exam content item to give much lower-stakes assessments like weekly quizzes or reading checks. (Hey, I didn’t promise you it would be a juicy secret, did I?)

I’m addressing online exams today as a result of reading a very informative post about online quizzes from the Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary. They are a Blackboard school, so the post discusses quizzes in Blackboard – but all of their wise words are equally true for Pearson LearningStudio users here at TCU.

In particular, they list five reasons to use online quizzes: 1) Flipping the classroom’s low-hanging fruit; 2) Easier than clickers; 3) Students do a lot for a few points; 4) Instant gratification; and 5) Self-scoring. I’d encourage you to go and read their supporting points for each reason.

I’d like to address points 1 & 5, however. Using class time efficiently and in a manner that honors each student’s current abilities is always challenging; this is doubly true for prep time. Online quizzes / exams / reading checks give you the opportunity to move the less interactive pieces of instruction out of the classroom, meaning that you can devote your time with the students to more robust and individualized active learning experiences. After all, waiting for that last handful of students to finish their quizzes means that the rest of the class is, well, waiting.

But if I move items online, will students cheat? They key is asking some questions that go beyond rehashing the reading. What would another scholar say about the reading? What piece of evidence did the authors use? What piece of evidence – had it been found – would have falsified or strongly supported the argument? Why did the authors say they did x, y, z? What will happen if a, b, c are not present? Perhaps, in conjunction with your question design, you decide to let students consult course materials in some instances. In this case, you might stress that, while the exam is open book / note, your questions really require students to have read and thought about the content in advance. Of course, no one wants students to treat an exam or quiz as a scavenger hunt through the text. Yet, if students are consulting the reading in order to engage with your well-written, high-quality question, that seems like a reasonable scholarly pursuit.

The LearningStudio exam set-up also has the ability to pull from a question pool (so not all students will see the same questions), to randomize questions (so not all students will see the questions in the same order), to display one question per page, to prevent students from navigating back to earlier questions, to prevent / allow re-takes, and to set a time limit on the exam.

You can, indeed, have LearningStudio auto-grade the exams and auto-post the scores in the gradebook (on that last topic, this is one of our most commonly asked questions regarding exams and the gradebook). Note that you can also have LearningStudio grade the multiple-choice, true / false, and matching questions on an exam and then you can go in and grade the short answer or essay questions. Thus, you might have a two-part question in which the first part requires an answer that can be auto-graded, and the second part asks students to explain why they selected that answer. Bam! Two question reading quiz: done! The larger point, though, is that online exams need not be a fully auto-pilot enterprise: there are options for students to explain their reasoning and for professors to score those elements individually.

Intrigued? Check out our how-to documentation on LearningStudio exams. We also have video guidance on all aspects of LearningStudio exam use. For example, here’s the video on creating 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!

Digital Flashcards

With final exams approaching, this is an opportune moment to talk about digital flashcards. In fact, this may be a post that you’d like to share directly with your students – be our guest!

Once students have the list of topics that the final exam will cover, you might encourage them to come up with a review plan. Smart students don’t just plunge in and review: they develop a strategy that covers all topics, allows for extra focus on areas / topics where they feel less confident, builds in repetition, and provides feedback.

Digital flashcards can help students study efficiently and leverage their classmates’ knowledge. Created through a website, an app, or a free software download, students can enter relevant concepts and review them. There are even options out there that can accommodate equations, pronunciations, and non-Latin alphabets. Many digital flashcard products also have mobile apps, meaning students can review on the go. Students can keep their flashcards private, share them with designated individuals, or opt to make them public (visible to anyone). If your students are ready to get started, we’ve reviewed some great digital flashcard options in a previous post.

But do flashcards work? It seems, for most learners, they do!

Infographic about role of flashcards in memorization process; indicates they are useful for all but kinesthetic learners


A Closer Look at Multiple Choice Tests

The new semester is officially underway–students are back, campus is bustling, and classrooms are full. Of course, faculty have been preparing for classes for quite some time now–so it feels like we’ve been “back” for much longer than a few days–and the educational corner of the Internet has been full of assignment and classroom management suggestions.

The folks over at ProfHacker always have great ideas, but this guest post by Jonathan Sterne, an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University, contains some strategies that may be of particular interest to TCU faculty teaching large sections and/or using iClickers.

Sterne offers a solid strategy for developing multiple choice exams, and while he pitches the quizzes as an alternative to using clickers in large sections, I think the two methods could be easily combined. One could adopt Sterne’s test-writing methods to generate clicker polling activities for students, including the “semi-open book” technique.

What are your thoughts? If you use clickers on TCU’s campus, have you ever tried a method like the one Sterne describes? If not, what are some strategies you’ve found particularly successful?

Students, Technology, and Crunch Time

A recent study finds that:

[While] students are tech-savvy and have plenty of gizmos, they may not be as distracted by these technologies as some may think . . . Results showed that students take a “less is more” approach when exam pressure starts bearing down. Students use technology to help them study and to communicate with others, the report found. And students are using the library less for its traditional resources — books, journals, etc. — and more as a place to get away from the hectic world around them.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that “65 percent [of students interviewed] said they used social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to coordinate study sessions or group work.”

Social media isn’t just a coordination tool for students, it can also be a study tool: “nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they had used social media for coursework. One student said he was having trouble understanding concepts in his physics class, so he researched lessons on YouTube, which helped him catch up with the coursework.”

Have you noticed students leveraging social media for learning purposes in your courses?

Last, here’s hoping that – however the studying happened – this is a successful exam week for all parties!


Digital flashcards are an easy way for your students to study on the go, mix up their studying strategies while in front of their computers, and study collaboratively. As the season of studying for final exams approaches, this post reviews flashcard resources you can share with your students.

All the options below are free, and allow for online and mobile flashcard use. In all instances, users can create and share their own flashcard sets or use existing sets found on the site. Additionally, all of these sites will count right and wrong answers and provide that data to the student.

Quizlet: Quizlet bills itself as the largest quiz / flashcard / study games site, so if students are looking for ready-made flashcards, this is probably the most promising avenue. Quizlet uses audio in type-what-you-hear exercises; in addition, there are several study games into which Quizlet will plug your desired content. There is an optional Facebook integration that will let you share flashcard sets with friends and see sets they have created. Quizlet has iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Nook, Windows Phone, and Android apps.

StudyStack: StudyStack really shines in the game department. If you – or your students – are looking to do something different with matched pairs of data, StudyStack has the game for you: matching, crosswords, hangman, scrambled words, etc. This site, however, also features some pretty distracting, busy ads on the top and right-hand side of the screen. Mobile apps for StudyStack (for Android, iPhone, iTouch, Windows Phone, and Blackberry) are all third-party apps into which you place exported StudyStack data – this is an additional step to make StudyStack flashcards mobile, but not a difficult one.

StudyBlue: StudyBlue flashcards also support audio files. There is also a suggestion wizard that will associate the terms in cards you create with the 30 other most relevant cards on the topic. Cards are mapped visually to related terms and ranked by usefulness. Students also have the ability to compare the answers on multiple similar flashcards. StudyBlue has flashcards for non-Latin alphabets. StudyBlue is available in iPhone / iPad / iTouch, Android, and Kindle versions.

Memrise: Memrise has a pretty slick site, although the site does note that it is still in beta / development, and has a published bug list. The focus of existing content is foreign languages. Memrise is a little gimmicky: learning is framed around a garden metaphor, in which your decision to start learning (create / enter a course and focus on specific content) is “planting the seed”, practicing the content is growing / watering the plants, and when knowledge is secure and strong, plants are then moved to “the garden”.  The Memrise concept markets itself as being built on neuroscience; for this reason, users attach a “mem” to each character / word / concept they are trying to learn, a technique designed to enhance content retention. I was only able to find Memrise apps for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

Anki: Anki’s key feature is format freedom, meaning that you are able to input information in any way you wish, rather than relying on predefined styles. Anki will also allow large decks of cards (up to 10,000 cards). Users note that it can handle non-Latin alphabets with ease. Additionally, Anki claims to be optimized for low bandwith access. Anki is open-source; It will run on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines, any smartphone, several game systems, iPod Touch, and iPad; it will not work with Palm devices or ereaders from what I can discern.

For those who live life in the Google cloud or for those less inclined toward bells and whistles, there’s gFlash (for idevices, Android, and Blackberry), which will make mobile-friendly, shareable flashcards from the data in a Google Spreadsheet. GFlash is also a content partner of some of the above quiz sites; for an upgrade fee, you can have access to their ready-made flashcard databases.

Last, I want to mention Mnemosyne. This is a flashcard program plus an ongoing memory research project. This means that Mnemosyne will anonymize, track, store, and then submit your success rate in recalling information back to the creators of the program; they then use this to improve the algorithm that generates how frequently you see which cards. There is a high degree of transparency: you can review the log that will be sent, the software is open-source, and the data generated is publicly available. I think it’s a pretty, elegant cool idea.Your data is assigned an untraceable random number, but if participating in the on-going research makes you uncomfortable, you can also use Mnemosyne without opting to share your use pattern. There is support for images, audio files, scientific and mathematical notations, and non-Latin alphabets. You can also make a “three-sided card”: associating a word, its translation, and its pronunciation. Mnemosyne is also available in several languages. Mnemosyne is a program you download; it’s primarily aimed at computer users, although there is a plugin that will allow you to use it on Android, Blackberry, and other phones/devices that support Java.



We had a demo yesterday of ExamSoft, by Katy Bailey (@ExamSoft_Katy) and Amy Smith. ExamSoft is “the Bar exam people” – yes that Bar.

Their product basically locks down a student Mac/PC laptop, desktop, or lab computer, that has the ExamSoft software installed, and makes it secure, unable to access other files or programs on the computer and basically takes over during an exam.

The system breaks down into the following compoents:  Exam Design, Exam Delivery, Scoring & Analysis, and Admin Services.

Images from their website explaining features:

For a school without a testing center, this could be quite beneficial.  Have you used this product before? What do you think of it?