Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Bad Exams (and Good Ones)
It's time again for profs to start thinking about exams (and students to start worrying about them). The last couple of times I've been on Prawfs during this time of year I've invited readers to share their thoughts about good and bad exams -- either particular examples or more general thoughts about what worked or didn't work, what was fair or not fair, etc. I'm doing that again.
In the hopes of starting the conversation off I'll throw a topic out to see what people think: hypos based on real (either expressly or transparently) facts. I think there was a discussion about this, for example, when I asked at one point about testing on hot-button fact patterns such as the health care law. But this topic is broader: are there good or bad points to using real facts on a law school exam? And, more generally, what in your view is a good or a bad exam, or the best (as in fairest, etc.) or worst exam you ever took or wrote?
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If an exam is inspired by real facts, it should diverge from those facts in some significant ways, and it should be made obvious to students that it does.
Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Nov 14, 2012 7:31:21 PM
I frequently use current events as inspiration for my exam questions and my class discussions. I feel the students find it more interesting, so it always surprises me that so few other professors do so.
I do agree that the facts should differ in some obvious and significant way on an exam.
Posted by: Dean | Nov 14, 2012 9:27:39 PM
I give students documents from an actual and ask them to write something in response. So, for example, I'll give them a lower-court opinion and ask them to write an opinion on appeal. Or I'll give them a complain and ask them to discuss the arguments the defendant should make. To the extent facts might be missing, I ask them to identify the further facts they need and why those facts are important.
I like the realism this gives, since they now have to engage with real materials. And some real cases are stranger than anything I could come up with.
Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 14, 2012 10:26:35 PM
Most profs know that if students are to get a good education, they need to do more than reach the targets, and that students' motivation to do well depends in part on feeling competent and autonomous, not pressured and directed. Teaching is nuanced and personal. It is not a race to see who can learn the fastest, but a process that, at its best, equips every person to go on learning for themselves long after they leave school.
Posted by: exam creation | Nov 15, 2012 3:24:43 PM
Two years ago I gave my Business Association students a hypothetical involving US Senators trading on inside information and that question did what any good essay question should do: it pushed the students beyond what they had studied in class and forced them to dig deep. Thanks, Prof. Bainbridge!
Posted by: Douglas Levene | Nov 16, 2012 9:54:57 AM