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6:14pm on Thursday, 7th January, 2016:
I managed to finish setting all six of the examination papers I had to set by tomorrow, and am now able to pass them onto the internal reviewer so they can tell me what's wrong with them.
Four of the papers were for undergraduate (BSc) consumption; two were for postgraduate (MSc) consumption. This is a bit excessive, given that I only teach two modules. However, the MSc students sit in on one of those modules, and all exams have to come with a resit paper so that the one person who fails the main paper can redeem themself later on by taking a two-hour exam it took me six hours to set.
The result of this is that for one of my modules, CE317/CE817, I have to set four question papers that cover the same material, with no question repeated. Furthermore, the MSc questions have to be more demanding than the BSc questions.
I've never set MSc questions before, so was at a bit of a loss as to how I might achieve this. Then, inspiration struck!
At BSc level, I set five questions per paper, each worth 20% of the paper total. The students have no choice over which questions to answer: they have to answer them all if they want a shot at full marks. I much prefer to give students a choice, but we have to set our question papers such that they hit all the learning outcomes for the module. I don't like having to specify learning outcomes for my modules, but we have to so that students know what they're paying to learn when they sign up, and employers know what they've been tested on. If I gave my students a choice, they could thread a way through the material avoiding a learning outcome they didn't particularly like, which would mean they'd be able to tell an employer they'd been examined on a topic they had skipped.
So, my second-year module, CE217, has 5 learning outcomes. That's one per question. My third-year module, CE317, has four learning outcomes so I get to examine one of them twice.
Idea! For MSc students taking the third-year module, I can reduce the number of questions to four. This gives them 30 minutes to answer each one instead of 24, so I can ask them to go into more depth.
My undergraduate questions so vary in nature, but a good half of them follow a particular pattern:
(a) Describe THIS.
(b) Describe THAT.
(c) Discuss what THIS has to say about THAT.
THIS and THAT are topics chosen from my topic list. Each module has 50-60 such topics, each one of which has a learning outcome associated with it. The idea is that parts (a) and (b) are bookwork, so if you remember the slides from my presentation you can answer them with only a basic understanding. Part (c) is the more testing part, that differentiates the stronger students from the weaker ones. Students will have been taught THIS and THAT, but not what THIS has to say about THAT: they need to understand both concepts to pick up the marks.
This isn't really right for MSc level, though. I shouldn't have to prompt them to info-dump me about THIS and THAT, I should just be able to ask them to discuss what THIS has to say about THAT and let them extract only the parts of THIS and THAT relevant for their argument; their choice of which parts to select then also demonstrates their understanding of the subject.
Idea! Why not cut to the quick and only ask part (c)? This will make the questions much, much shorter to write! I'll be able to set them with ease, no problem! Also, as I only need to set four of them instead of five, it'll be a breeze!
Well, that's what I did, and it was indeed a breeze. It took me only one hour to set the questions for two MSc papers. Job done!
Ah, er, not quite...
Not only do I have to set the questions, I have to provide model answers and a mark scheme. This is not much of a problem for the undergraduate papers as the bookwork answers are fixed and the non-bookwork answers are short. For the MSc papers, the non-bookwork answers are long...
I basically had to answer my own exam papers and get 100% in them, in order to demonstrate that it is in fact possible to get 100% in them. In fact, because there are several ways that questions can be answered, I had to get more like 200% in them. It took me the rest of the day.
I'm hoping that all the MSc students pass first time, then at least I'll be able to bank the resit paper for next year. I don't want to have to do this every year if I can at all avoid it.
There's always that one student who slips up, though...
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