Design your own Final

A fun way to get the students thinking about the final exam is to give them time on the last day to help write it.  The last day of class is a great time to review and reflect on what the students have learned throughout the semester, but they may have trouble relating that reflective period to the actual final exam.  Having them design the final (or parts of it) forces them to think more systematically about the exam as questions and answers, and also makes them more likely to think of the exam as ‘fair’ since they helped create it. If you aren’t having a final, you can adapt the exercise to help them reflect and synthesize.

The amount of direction I give the students depends on the class.  Usually I have students pair off and give them 5-10 minutes for the exercise.  First, i review what a ‘good’ exam question, whether short answer or essay, looks like.  They usually like this, not only because it helps them write their own questions, but also because it gives them insight into how I create their exams.  Then I assign each group a chapter or theme, and have them write 3-5 questions on their assigned area, but also to write 2-3 questions that synthesize the broad themes of the course or draw on multiple chapters. I promise that anywhere from 1 question to the entire exam will be made of of their questions, depending on the quality of the questions.  Sometimes as an added bonus I throw in the promise of extra credit on the exam for anyone who gets a question on the exam.  I collect the questions, type them up, and post them online as their study guide.

The questions often require a bit of alteration on my part, and I also tend to throw in a few of my own as well.  I add in a section on the format of the exam and some preparation advice, and that’s about it.  It gives students the study guide they want with minimal work for me, gives them some ownership over the exam, starts their minds on the reflective path I want them to take before the final, and sometimes saves me the work of writing exam questions!

One thought on “Design your own Final

  1. Carl Djerassi – the birth control pill guy – did a variation on this. He gave one question final exams and got each of his students to write an exam question. The questions would then be distributed to the class as the final exam. He figured, correctly, that they would each write the toughest question they could in the hopes that they would get a question that was easier and top the curve.

    Djerassi then collected all the questions and … gave each student back the exam question they had written! Muy nasty, but you talk about an effective final in terms of learning outcomes.

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