Monday, December 7, 2009

Weir on final exams

Just in time for finals, the ever helpful Rob Weir at IHE has a useful list of do's and don'ts when it comes to crafting final exams. They follow below the fold.

  1. Don’t exact revenge. "Maybe you had a class (or two) in which students were inattentive or disrespectful and you’re thinking of lowering the reality boom. Sorry; you should have done that earlier in the semester. Maintain professional poise and design a final appropriate for the subject matter, not your revenge fantasies."
  2. Don’t experiment with your final. "... the final isn’t the place to dust off an intriguing new idea. You should hew closely to whatever methods you've been using to evaluate throughout the semester. If you've assigned essays all semester, don’t suddenly opt for an objective exam..."
  3. Don’t use the final to test things you never got around to teaching."...the professor controls the agenda and it's unfair to expect students to paint on walls that never got built."

  1. Make the final harder (and probably longer) than other exams. "This is the culminating exercise of a course and it's fair game to ask students to demonstrate mastery of the material. It should have a cumulative aspect to it, be it in the form of actual detail or in (forewarned) application of central concepts."
  2. Multiple measurements will yield better results. Rob's thought: Mix essay, multiple choice, etc.
  3. Prepare your students. "Give students advance warning of how the exam will be set up. If you can, provide practice exercises. You might, for example, use the course Web site to post a model of a well-done essay or a well-crafted theory application."
  4. Make instructions and expectations crystal clear. "However you configure the exam, make certain that students know what they'll be doing and how you'll evaluate it. ... If you have any special conditions, spell them out in person and in writing."
  5. Make students aware of your college’s honors code.
  6. If you can, break away from conventional exams. "I'm aware that some colleges have non-optional requirements about finals. If you are allowed leeway, however, consider alternative examination methods. I do not believe for a second that blue book exams are necessarily the best way to measure student success... If you’re teaching an upper-division course, the best assessment tool may be a research paper, a lab demonstration, an oral presentation of research, a piece of creative fiction, a collaborative project, a demonstration of craft, or a work of art."
  7. Take your time grading.
Hard to argue with Rob's sage advice, though to my eye, 'do not' #2 almost appears to contradict 'do' #6. Anyone have thoughts about final exam construction -- intriguing ideas, unusual formats or questions, etc.?

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