Sunday, April 29, 2007

Written Exams

This past Thursday marks the first day I've ever given a midterm, and the second time I've had anything resembling a standard written exam.

It's much harder to make a written exam "game-like" without having rules that are so confusing that they get in the way of evaluating students' mastery of the material; the best I could hope for was an exam where students found the questions interesting and thought-provoking. (This meant essay questions. Lots and lots of essay questions. 18 of them, to be precise.)

Mostly, students complained about a two-hour written exam due to hand cramps. They can play video games with an ergonomically-destructive N64 or GameCube controller for ten hours straight, yet two hours of writing and they've suddenly got carpal tunnel. I don't get it.

Having never made an exam like this, I was afraid that it would be too easy, or too hard, or too short, or too long. As it turns out, it looks like I had some serious beginner's luck; no one ran out of time but most students stayed nearly till the end, and so far it's looking like the grades will fall on a nice bell curve. If I've made a serious mistake, it's setting myself up to grade 18 essay questions for 23 students over a single weekend (which is, honestly, much more writing than two hours on a single exam). No hand cramps yet, even with playing Guitar Hero during breaks!


Anonymous said...

...yet two hours of writing and they've suddenly got carpal tunnel. I don't get it.

I bet they could have done a two-hour writing exam at a computer keyboard with no problem.

Anonymous said...

After years of playing video games, and now typing since taking your classes, my hands just don't have the musculature necessary anymore to hold a pencil.

As for the test, I was very surprised. It was easier than I expected, but with all the material we had covered, it should come as no surprise that some of us may have been over-exaggerating the difficulty of the material.

While being easier than expected, at least for myself, it was still very thought provoking and caused me to sit and think. Not so much about the actual answer, but more on how to word it, what aspect of the question are you looking for an answer to, etc.

All in all, kudos to you on a test well-written.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

I've recently switched to exams-on-the-computer, so that students don't suffer hand cramps; also they can type faster than they can write, so they may find it easier to express themselves (not waiting for their hand to catch up...). And if I want to write comments on their answers, as I often do, it's much easier for me to type the comment on the document than to handwrite it on paper, and they'll find it easier to read, as well.