Writing exams and assignments
Writing good assessments, including exams, paper or project assignments, can be challenging. Many instructors struggle to find the right balance: not too hard but not too easy, clear and detailed instructions without giving away the answers or writing ten pages of guidelines.
- In general, the first place you want to start is with your learning outcomes – if you are clear about what you want students to know and be able to DO, the assessments sometimes write themselves. The CTL page on course design talks about this process.
- Selecting the right typeof assignment often depends on what you are trying to assess. Are you assessing students’ understanding of basic knowledge, or their ability to analyze and evaluate? It can be helpful to think about which level of Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning is represented by the learning outcome being assessed; this grid provides suggestions of corresponding activities and question stems. This table provides similar suggestions for Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning.
See the following links and resources for additional guidance on the actual writing/construction of exam items and assignments:
- BYU’s Faculty Center outlines 14 Rules for Writing Multiple Choice Questions; Vanderbilt’s CFT expands on those rules in their guide on writing good multiple choice questions
- Kansas Curriculum Center has a fairly long but detailed guide on writing effective questions– although intended for K-12 teachers, the principles all apply to college exams and assignments as well
- The Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project at UNLV has several resources for designing and writing effective assignments
- The CTL page on Formative Peer Review of Teaching has rubrics to self-assess your assignments, course materials and overall assessment structure (at the bottom right of the page)
- In addition to writing good questions and assignments, make sure you have given some thought to how you will grade that work. Rubrics can be important tools for ensuring consistency and fairness in your grading; for guidance, see UCDenver's tutorial for creating rubrics, Yale's CTL discussion of creating and using rubrics, or the Eberly Center (Carnegie Mellon) page on creating and using rubrics.