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Creating Effective Assessments

When students aren’t engaged with class material, don’t understand the connection between course content and assignments, or feel they are being treated unfairly, they act out in a number of ways, from classroom incivility, to plagiarism (Sorcinelli, 2003). Effective assignment design will not only help students learn, but will decrease academic dishonesty and student dissatisfaction.

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When designing assessments, it is important to make sure that any exams or assignments match the learning outcomes of the course. Assessments should be based on material you’ve covered in the course, and students should perceive the material as relevant and fair.

When designing a new assessment or revising an old one, “the most important component is to be sure there is a match between the objectives of the unit/course/lesson being assessed, the teaching/learning activities used, and the assessment tool.”

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When designing an exam using multiple choice questions, there are several tricks to making sure the questions are fair, reliable, and measure higher order thinking.

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As described by the Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning, “the worst final exams can seem unfocused, determined to test everything, or random things. The best final exams are learning moments.”

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Open book exams can be a way of both assessing whether students have achieved higher level learning outcomes and reducing student anxiety.

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Additional Resources


Designing Tests and Exams

  • Alternatives to Final Exams
    Office of Educational Development. University of California at Berkeley.
  • How to Write Tests
    By Robert Runte. University of Lethbridge. 2001.
    Dr. Runte covers test-taking and test design. Includes information on assessing student achievement, reporting test results, and designing objective test items, including essay questions, multiple-choice questions, and short answer questions.
  • How to Write Better Tests: A Handbook for Improving Test Construction Skills [pdf]
    By Lucy C. Jacobs. IU Bloomington Evaluation Services & Testing. Indiana University.
  • Creating Assignments & Exams
    Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Harvard University.
  • Improving Multiple Choice Tests [pdf]
    By Victoria L. Clegg and William E. Cashin. From IDEA Paper No. 16. Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development. Kansas State University. 1986.
    This paper outlines ideas and strategies for writing fair, accurate and inclusive multiple-choice tests.
  • Improving Essay Tests [pdf]
    By William E. Cashin. From IDEA Paper. No. 17. Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development. Kansas State University. 1987.
    This paper provides strategies and recommendations for constructing and scoring essay tests. These recommendations can also be adapted to term papers, project reports, oral exams and other student assessment processes.