This morning Rob Weir has an “Instant Mentor” column up at InsideHigherEd that offers strategies for designing the final exam.
In the main, his advice is sound, although we here at ProfHacker officially disapprove of this tidbit:
Don’t experiment with your final. Experimenting with teaching methods and evaluation methods is a good thing, but 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.
We wouldn’t be called ProfHacker if we thought you shouldn’t experiment! Even the examples he gives aren’t so bad: If the main grades in your class were on critical or interpretative essays, then you may well want to make sure that at least some objective knowledge makes it onto your final.
For the last couple of years, I’ve done nothing but experiment with the final: In my classes, students write the final exam collaboratively before they take it. This is an offshoot of my “Wikified Class Notes” assignment, which people are probably sick of hearing me evangelize about. But the point of that assignment, in part, is to ratify a common understanding of what happened in class, and what was important about it. At the end of the semester, I then give students a week to comb through their notes and their books to come up with passages for identification, short answer questions, and essay exams. The deal I always make is that if the students come up with an adequate number of smart questions, then I’ll draw the exam entirely (or close to it) from their questions, and will usually post it as a study guide a day or two in advance of the final.
What’s nice about doing it this was is that it focuses attention on our work together. It tends to validate the exam in students’ eyes. Designing a question is also far more pedagogically interesting than cramming, too!
A few points:
- The fact that I choose the questions is a bit of a quality-control cheat. Although most students try, I do have the occasional headscratcher.
- Also, I edit/punch-up the questions a bit to make them sharper. That way, I’m not totally dependent on the luck of the draw.
- You do get a free rider problem, but the beauty of the assignment is that free riders tend to do worse on the exam than students who at least try to do a question or two. Plus, there’s the threat: not enough good questions = I write the exam.
Do you have tips/tricks for whipping up a final exam? Let us know in comments!
Image by is Flickr user dcJohn / CC licensed