I teach a first-year university course called “Effective Learning”. This semester, topics included managing exam stress, how to prepare for exams and strategies to during a test including such things as reading over the exam before you start writing and answering the questions you know first. Most of the assessment I did for this class was strength-based evaluation such as group projects, evaluated presentations and portfolios. We did one test at the end of the semester.
I decided to engage the students in the exam development process. We spent time in class reviewing what types of exam questions were acceptable (e.g. multiple choice, short answer, essay) and what content would be covered. The questions were based on material from the two textbooks, as well as materials from in-class presentations and discussions. All the material covered from the first day of the semester was to be included in the final exam.
Earlier in the semester students had worked with a partner to present a presentation that was a synthesis of two readings each. For the development of the test questions, students worked with the same partner and prepared questions on each reading they had done their class presentations on some weeks earlier. Students were challenged to come up with at least 5 questions per chapter and to include more than one type of question (multiple choice, short answer, etc.)
Students prepared test questions and handed them in to me. I compiled them into one document, noting which questions related to which chapters in the text or readings from the course pack. I also noted which students had contributed which questions. The questions were distributed to all students for study purposes. The result was a 10-page study guide comprised of potential test questions that they themselves had generated.
I let them know that I would be selecting from their contributed test questions and that I would also be adding some questions of my own that would not be shared before the exam.
The process of having students develop test questions proved to be a useful learning exercise for them. They got to experience what it is like to write exam questions and the thought-process that goes into it. Knowing that this was not simply an academic exercise but that some of these questions would actually appear on the final exam added a much-needed element of authenticity. Students took the exercise seriously when they knew that it would impact their peers.
Finally, they reported being more engaged with both the material and the study process when they had the opportunity to contribute questions. Suddenly it wasn’t an exam inflicted upon them, so much as a challenge they co-developed and were ready to take on.
Course design: 7 ways I engaged my students in the process http://wp.me/pNAh3-nV
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.