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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More on Exam Writing

Continuing Michael's theme, appropriate for this time of year, I have been thinking about the fairness of exams and how to write one that really tests what the students have learned. My solution for the need to test different skills and different types of knowledge that the students have acquired throughout the semester is to divide the exam into two parts as well: for me though, the two parts consist not of a take-home and in-class but rather, a closed-book and an open-book. The closed book usually includes multiple choice/short answer questions; the open-book includes issue spotters and policy type discussion questions. I think it is fair to see what students have learned about Employment Law without having their notes available to them because I think it is too easy these days to work out outlines and casebooks and sometimes electronic materials [especially with take-homes] so as to be able, if you are smart and organized, to answer short questions and sometimes issue spotters really well without ever internalizing the subject. I do want to test some longer term saved-in-memory knowledge about the subject we have been discussing in class for a few months. I think the closed-book approach is also relevant to real life professionalism. As a lawyer you often are asked questions that you have not fully prepare for two hours prior to the meeting/hearing about related statutes and legal developments. But of course, the open book also has great value as it can test how one processes large quantities of information in a sophisticated way and it can get to deeper understanding about the issues than just spitting out the materials.

For all of you in the same boat of exam writing this week, hang in there -- soon the fun of grading begins!

Posted by Orly Lobel on December 5, 2007 at 06:19 PM | Permalink


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Continuing the theme of "I divide my exams into two parts," my Constitutional Law exams have two parts. Part I (60-75% of the test) is made up of traditional hypothetical fact patterns, though with slightly more focused questions that would accompany a traditional issue-spotter. Part II (25-40% of the exam) is made up of short essay questions (10-12 points, 2-3 paragraphs) requiring students to evaluate or critique decisions, doctrines, or theories of constitutional interpretation. The whole exam is completely open-book, but the books are basically useless in Part II.

Posted by: Andrew Siegel | Dec 5, 2007 6:44:29 PM

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