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Administering exams

How an exam is administered can affect student performance as much as how the exam was written. Below is a list of general principles to consider when designing and administering examinations.

  1. Give complete instructions as to how to take the examination. Indicate the number of points each section of the examination counts or the amount of time to spend on each section. This helps students to allocate their efforts wisely.
  2. State specifically what aids (e.g. calculator, notes, books) students are allowed to use in the examination room.
  3. Use assignments and homework to provide preparation for taking the exams. For example, if the assignments ask all essay questions, it would be inappropriate for the examination to consist of 200 multiple-choice questions.
  4. Practice taking the completed test yourself. You should count on the students to take about four times the amount of time it takes you to complete the test.
  5. For final examinations, structure the test to cover the scope of the entire course. The examination should be comprehensive enough to test adequately the student’s learning of the course material. Use a variety of different types of questions on the examination (e.g., multiple-choice, essay, etc.) because some topics are covered more effectively with certain types of questions. Group questions of the same type together when possible.
  6. Tell the students what types of questions will be on the test (i.e., essay, multiple-choice, etc.) prior to the examination. Allow students to see past (retired) examinations so that they have some idea what to expect. For essay exams, share the general grading scheme (rubric) ahead of time so that the students understand how they will be evaluated (if appropriate).
  7. Provide students with a list of review questions or topics covered on the exam along with an indication of the relative emphasis on each topic.
  8. Give detailed study suggestions.
  9. Indicate how much the examination will count toward determining the final grade.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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