Designing Effective Exams



Designing Effective Exams
Designing Effective Exams
Janet Branchaw
Carol Hurney
Jenny Knight
Alix Darden
 are a form of summative assessment
 measure learning outcomes (the significant and essential
learning that learners have achieved)
 should align with learning objectives and formative
assessment activities and assignments (use learning
taxonomies to do this!)
Learning Objectives for This
You will:
 consider the process that you currently use to write exams and
outline a plan to improve your process in the future
 use a taxonomy of learning to align your exam questions with
your learning objectives
 practice writing different types of exam questions
Nilson, L.B. (2003) Teaching at Its Best:
A Research-Based Resource for College
Instructors, Anker Publishing
How do you write exams?
Consider the following:
• How often do you do summative assessment of your students’ learning
(give an exam) during the course of a semester?
• When do you write the exams?
• How do you ensure that your exams reflect what was actually taught?
• How do you determine how much time it will take for students to
complete your exams?
• How do you know if the questions you’ve written are clear and not prone
to misinterpretation?
• What is your greatest challenge in writing exams?
ExamWriting Guidelines/Tips
• Examine early and often (low  high stakes)
• Compose exam questions immediately after you cover material in class to
ensure appropriate “coverage”
• Use learning objectives to guide the writing of exam questions
• Start the test with some warm-up questions
• Ask a colleague (TA) to evaluate the exam for clarity, content and
alignment with your learning objectives
• Proofread!
• Give detailed instructions and allow students sufficient time to complete
each question (instructor time x 4)
• Use a variety of question types
Exam Question Types
• Multiple Choice
• True / False
• Matching
Constructed Response
• Short Answer
• Completion
• Essay
• Problem Solving
• Advantages, Disadvantages and Construction (handout)
Learning Objective Students will be able to predict and explain changes
in nervous system activity in response to drugs that alter the function of
nervous system proteins.
Set up Smoking cigarettes introduces nicotine into the blood stream via the
respiratory epithelium. Nicotine is a nicotinic acetylcholine (N-Ach)
receptor agonist.
1. Where in the autonomic nervous system are nicotinic Ach receptors located? (Know, SA)
2. How will nicotine affect activity (the generation of electrical signals) in the
parasympathetic (& sympathetic) division of the autonomic nervous system? (App, MC)
a) increase activity b) decrease activity c) no effect
3. People smoke cigarettes in the morning to help them wake up, and also after stressful
events to help them relax. Explain how the nicotine in cigarettes can produce these
apparently opposing effects with regard to the autonomic nervous system. (Syn, Essay)
Taxonomies and Question Types
Bloom’s Learning Level
Sample MC Stem Question
What is a typical growth rate of the
What is distinctive about the azalea
compared to other spring-flowering
Application & Analysis
(critical thinking)
What happens if an azalea receives a
plant food high in alkaline and low in
Analysis & Evaluation
(critical thinking)
Given highly acidic soil and an annual
rainfall of 40 inches, what is the most
effective plant food for an azalea?
Analysis & Evaluation
(Problem Solving)
Your azalea is planted in full shade
under the eaves of your house. Leaves
are yellowing, and the plant has
shown little growth in two years. What
is the best treatment of this problem?
Your Turn
 Pick one of your learning objectives
 Categorize it in a learning taxonomy framework
(e.g. Bloom it, Fink it)
 Identify (or write) an exam question to assess that
learning objective
 Rewrite your question in at least two other formats
Learning Taxonomies – Bloom
David R. Krathwohl, A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy: An Overview, 2002.
Learning Taxonomies – Fink
Learning How
0 to Learn
• Self-directed
• Understanding
• Remembering
Developing new:
• Feelings
• Interests
• values
• Skills
• Thinking
• Managing projects
Learning about:
• Oneself
• Others
• Ideas
• People
• Realms of life
©2003 L. Dee Fink, Creating Significant Learning Experiences

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