Fine-Tuning Final Exam Questions & Feedback

2 May

In preparing final exams, whether multiple choice, essay, or a mix of the two – it’s important for teachers to take time to review alignment of individual items with course aims, and to refocus on the clarify of sentences setting out test directions.  These tips are culled from past posts.  

Essay-Based Exam Questions

1. Consider this point from Chris Galdieri, UM alum a tenured political science faculty member at a New Hampshire university:

“Exam questions are a great place to emphasize inclusive language.  There hasn’t yet been a woman president, for instance, but there’s no reason there can’t be in a question about a hypothetical president on your exam.  Similarly, there’s no reason a hypothetical candidate on a question can’t be named Reyes instead of Smith.”

2. In setting out direction for essay exam questions, be specific about what you mean by discuss, analyze, or evaluate, be especially clear about this if you add the word critically before any of these verbs.

3. Consider whether the one-page responses you are hoping to read in response to a prompt clearly sets out guidelines students can use to meet those hopes. For example: Do you want them to make a case for a specific action, or do you want them to weigh evidence to come to a conclusion about a best choice for action? Do you expect them to draw on course resources in responding – any specific number or type of resources? Be clear about these expectations in writing guidelines to accompany your prompt.

Multiple Choice Exams

1. Avoid extra language in writing multiple choice question stems or essay exam prompts.  Notice the difference in these two examples:

  • According to Tuckman’s model, groups develop through several stages over time.  Furthermore, it contradicts Poole’s activity-track model which has groups switching among several different linear sequences.  Which of the following is not one of the stages identified in Tuckman’s model?
  • Tuckman’s model of group development includes which of the following stages?  Select ALL that apply.

2. Designing Quantitative Tests to Maximize Learning? Check out Rich Felder’s collection of tips for disciplines that rely more on quantitative exams. Some of the points he addresses – minimizing speed as a test performance factor, and providing study guides – are especially good reminders for teachers working to prepare final exams.

3. The blog post “Writing Multiple-Choice Questions for Higher-Level Thinking provides several specific examples of ways to transform existing multiple choice questions as part of creating measures of higher levels of learning.

Planning for Feedback

Research conducted by the UK’s National Union of Students is reflective of findings also reported in the US:  Analysis of student comments points to two main requests, if you will, from students (1) knowing how exams will be rated, reviewed, scored; and (2) having some feedback on the assessment.

As the 2010 NUS report sums this up: “Feedback on assessment plays a crucial role in a student’s learning, self-esteem and future development.” Even at the end of the term.  Just don’t expect them to come to your office to pick up the feedback, and don’t feel as though you only have the option to respond to each student individually.  Instead

  1. Have students use Google Documents to send in a take home exam and respond directly on that file.
  2. For paper-based exams, ask students to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope and one or two specific questions around which you will compose a response and mail as feedback.
  3. Use Moodle to send out a classwide email or to post a sound file that speaks to the entire class about what made for successful and unsuccessful responses to essay questions, or patterns that emerged in answering multiple choice questions – especially if these impacted exam scoring.
  4. Talk to students via a podcast about what you see as course content students have “mastered,” followed by naming those bits that need their continued attention, and maybe by a suggestion of two good resources for their future reference given interests in the topic that have emerged in student writing.
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