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Monday, April 28, 2008


Since writing a "good" exam takes a fair amount of time, it's always good to get an early start.  Aiming to have an exam done a few weeks before finals gives time for tweaking, proofing, and of course, printing, xeroxing and stapling.

But it also raises the possibility of a delicate situation.  What do you do when a student, either in a review session or in office hours before the exam, asks you a question that is exactly the issue you test in an exam?  What do you do when a student asks you how a hypothetical would turn out, and that is the very hypothetical you've used to construct the exam?  This may be especially likely to happen when one bases exam questions on real-world scenarios with obvious implications for the subject area.

Handling such a question requires some care.  You may think the student has hit the bullseye, because you've been thinking so much about that question or hypothetical in writing the exam and a grading key, but what if the student is really asking about something different?  Being too quick to answer a question might tip you hat and give a particular student (if the question isn't asked in a public review session) an advantage.  [Is this an "unfair" advantage?]

There may also be a temptation to be evasive, however.  Fearful of revealing TMI, you might dodge the question.  That seems unfair to the student.  Similarly, you may get back up to your office after the review session and contemplate sending that question into the recycle bin.  My guess is that's a bad idea, given that your second-choice question, pulled together late in the game, may not be as strong a tool for evaluation of student learning.

Posted by Geoffrey Rapp on April 28, 2008 at 09:14 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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I draft the exam and complete it approximately five days before it is administered. Once it is complete, I put a moratorium on questions until the exam review session. This review session is held 1 or 2 days before the final exam. I do not prepare any material, I simply answer any and all questions. At that time the students are all (or nearly all) focused on my course. The students then get the benefit of hearing the other students' questions and answers. And I do not have to worry that I have given TMI to one student. No more questions are taken after that exam review session.

To address the situation you raised, I think you answer the question straighforward. Nothing wrong (and a lot right) about a student who is thinking about the material in the same way that you do.

Posted by: Henry Noyes | Apr 28, 2008 1:19:08 PM

That's why I don't write my exam until after the review session. But as you note, that has costs too.

Posted by: Chris | Apr 28, 2008 10:20:51 AM

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