Sunday, March 20, 2016

Making Exams: A Great Challenge

As part of first tenure as a TA for a large, undergraduate course, I was tasked with making exams, which the instructor would ratify based on their experience. Initially I thought it would be easy - just make questions covering all topics concerned. But then I quickly realized that making questions was not as easy as it seemed. Of course, there is always the thought of just repeating homework problems with different numbers. But not only is that lazy and sloppy, but it assumes that everyone perfectly understood the homework. Furthermore, it also assumes that having understood it, they would be able to solve it quickly. Neither of those assumptions is correct.

Making exams can be quite difficult for a graduate student. The 'design student,' if I may, is a slightly below average student, as gauged by the class assignments. Not only must the student be able to finish the exam, they must get an average grade (say, a B) on it. Therefore, time as well as difficulty are constraints, simultaneous and inter-linked. However, that is not to say that a short and easy exam is the only possible solution; indeed, that would be unfair to a lot of students. There must be questions that only a fairly intelligent student, familiar with the course material can answer.

An important technique that my adviser taught me is to make an exam progressively difficult. So the initial questions would be easy, confidence-builders. Then the difficulty levels would progress, such that only those who can solve the whole thing (in time) can get an A. It is quite hard for a grad student to judge this of course, because it has to be with respect to the design student, and more often than not, a grad student was the smartest kid in class!

The first exam I made seemed fairly easy to me, although it was somewhat subjective. The second one seemed even easier, but some students struggled to finish it, and the average fell just slightly. Clearly, there's a lot more to learn!

1 comment:

Baridhi Malakar said...

Saaley, tum logo ki bajaoge...and will take cover under 'learning' experience of preparing exams! tch tch. :P Such if life!?! Hahahha.....