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phaedryx's avatar

Writing your own final exam. Effective?

Asked by phaedryx (6107 points ) August 24th, 2012

I just came across this blog post: http://blog.sethroberts.net/2012/08/09/tyler-cowens-unusual-final-exam/

What do you think?

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6 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I still remember (as do all of my classmates) the final exam we had for Freshman English.

“Discuss ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’.” This was a GBS play that all sections of Freshman english comp. read.

As the exam books were passed out, you could hear the laughter ripple from the first row to the last in the exa room.

No one remembers or cares much about the play. Everyone remembers the exam.

Relevant? Probably not.

nikipedia's avatar

I have done something similar when I was teaching, but usually only for a quiz worth a few points, not a final exam.

It definitely separates the critical thinkers from the memorizers. Overall, I remember being very impressed with how they did. It gave some of the brighter students a real opportunity to shine.

wundayatta's avatar

What’s your goal with the exam? Do you want to know whether students learned what you think is important? Do you want to know if they have learning anything about how to think? Do you want to see the range of their knowledge about the subject matter? Do you want to be able to give them a grade?

Frankly, most teachers do exams because they have to give grades.

If you ask students to ask their own questions, then you will find out what is on their minds and what they have been thinking about. You’ll find out what they know a lot about. You won’t find out what they don’t know.

It’s a matter of philosophy. Do you really care about what they don’t know? If you do, you write the exam. If you really care about what they do know, then they write the exam.

Personally, I think you can do more with what someone does know than with what they don’t know. But that’s not the way our society works, unfortunately.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I think it’s a fine idea, though I would change the grading criterion to ”better and/or deeper questions get more points” rather than merely harder questions. There’s no virtue in having a hard question on an exam just for the sake of having a hard question. No student leaves with a complete mastery of every topic covered in the class. Even if they are eventually expected to have such mastery in their later careers, that is something which develops over the course of time as concepts and information are applied (whether it be in future classes or outside the classroom).

It depends on the class, though. If you are running a safety course in which it is of the utmost importance to make sure that no one is lacking knowledge about particular practices, then this sort of test wouldn’t be ideal. Something similar might be said about prerequisites that exist to make sure one has the required background information to pursue further education in a subject. For classes where the primary intent is to get one to learn or develop a particular skill or way of thinking, this sort of exam might even be ideal for testing how well one can deploy that skill or way of thinking “in the wild.”

PhiNotPi's avatar

I don’t think that it is effective idea because it doesn’t quite test the same skills as a normal exam.

Making up a good question is a hard thing to do. You have to be able to predict the deepness/difficulty of solving the problem before you actually solve the problem. It is surprisingly easy to create a problem, while attempting to create a deep problem, that ends up being too deep. It is also hard to write question that is phrased nicely and well-written. This skill is not necessarily related to the ability of a person to solve the problems that are given to them (most real world questions are caused by a known problem, not generated from thin air).

Another thing is that people will only ask themselves questions that they know the answer to. The intuitive thing to do is grade the exam based the range of content covered. The examiner could provide a list of topics that the students should ask themselves questions about. Even this is not effective.

Say that one potential topic is “traditions of different religions”, to name the most random topic I can think of. If a student chooses to ask himself to describe the practices associated with Hinduism, it is safe to assume that he knows equally as much about all other religions? With a normal exam, a student does not know which religion he will be tested on, but in this case he can choose the religion.

If a tell a person to describe a random religion (like Sikhism) and he describes it well, then it is relatively safe to assume that he knows a lot about other religions. However, if you give him the choice of religion and he chooses Christianity, is it safe to assume that he knows a lot about all religions, or that he picked that certain religion because it is the only one he knows anything about?

———

Another problem is that it is impossible to give a objective score. In a normal exam, a teacher can create a solution guide (prior to the exam) that gives all of the required details for each answer and how many points each required detail is worth. No matter who the teacher is, the final score should be relatively independent of who scored it. With an exam that the students write, it is hard to do this.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I’m for it.

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