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What to Consider When Creating a Final Exam

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Dec 2, 2014 7:28:44 AM

As we enter December, most high school teachers are preparing to end the semester, which means entering grades, contacting parents, wrapping up major units, and creating a final exam (among 100 other last minute tasks).  Making a final exam can be a daunting process, so this week I want to share some tips that I've picked up over the years and I would love to hear your questions, comments, and suggestions in the comment section below!

1. Strategize about the grading process. Writing is a major part of my curriculum, but I have deadlines and class sizes, which make it exceedingly difficult to include a long written portion on my exam.  Because we have a fast final grade report turnaround deadline, I give a written exam a week before finals week and then add the grade to a scantron test that I give on the actual exam day.  This gives me enough time to grade essays, while still valuing them as part of the exam.  If you want to add something like a project or essay to the exam score, be sure to check with your department chair as some schools have policies against this.

2. Let the test reflect your priorities. If you spend a majority of your teaching time on literature, don't make your final exam entirely vocabulary and grammar.  Be sure to include all of the major strands in appropriate proportion.

3. Keep an eye to fairness. Questions should be rigorous, but not tricky.  As much as possible, there should also be equal access to all students who diligently prepared for your exam without bias toward particular groups.  For example, including brand new academic language in question stems can severely hinder English language learners who may otherwise know the content discussed in class.  In that case, mindful preparation and question writing are key.  In my opinion, this is a very difficult but worthy task.

4. Think about ways to discourage cheating. Consider rearranging your desks for the test day to spread students out.  It may also be a good idea to create multiple versions of the test.

5. Be aware of time.  It can be difficult to find the right time balance, but it is important.  If your test is too short, students will get antsy and potentially disturb other classes.  If your test is too long, student may not finish, which makes it very difficult to grade fairly.  I give 200 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes, which works for my class, but you have to judge your length based on your class make-up.  (Side note: in my experience, matching sections take longer than regular multiple choice.)

6. Have some fun with the cover. Comic strips, memes, meaningful quotes from literature, and inside jokes can relieve some of the tension for students right before a stressful exam.  Last year I did a Hunger Games meme with Effie Trinket wishing that the odds were ever in their favor.  To the left are a couple other recent covers I've had, which included quotes from Tennyson and Fitzgerald.

What would you add to this list?

Topics: Assessments, exam, final, test

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