Monday, March 05, 2012

Making a Midterm is No Fun

I think one of most challenging parts of teaching a course is setting up exams. 

There are a lot of constraints:

You want to cover, as reasonably as possible, all the material.
You want to target somewhere around the median of the class;  not too hard, not too easy. 
You don't want there to be any severe typos or other problems with problem;  you can't have a problem without a solution or is otherwise confusing.  
There are a limited number of good problems readily available;  making up new problems is challenging.  (Again, you don't want errors...)
You have to make it all do-able in 90 minutes.  
And so on....

I look forward to reaching a point where I don't think it's worth giving exams to students.  (I don't in my grad classes.)  For my undergrad class, I still think it's necessary. 


Anonymous said...

>You have to make it all do-able in 90 minutes.

maybe violating this constraint will help with the other constraints (the median for example) as well. as long as everybody knows that there are possibly too many questions to be answered in 90 minutes, it might be ok to have a longer exam.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Ah, you caught me, Anon 1. I do overload the exam, much to the dismay of students; this also seems to lead to targeting the test to the top 1/3, which I feel is OK.

Anonymous said...

good problems, though difficult to construct, are very valuable (at least to learners like myself). They are worth the effort I think.