Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Exam Writing

Over at PrawsBlawg Eduardo Penalver started a thread on exam writing.  I thought it appropriate to drop my thoughts here. 

My approach all semester has been to use Hypotheticals in nearly every class session.  I've challenged my students to pull from the cases, and hypotheticals rules they can construct into an analytical framework.  How well they've created a framework which requires them to analyze issues is what I seek to test them on.

So how will I do it?  First, my format.  I've told my students the final exam (which is open case and rule book and open self-prepared notes) will be some multiple choice, some short answer questions, some medium answer questions, and an issue spotter.  I will test on law and the policies behind those laws, as we've discussed both throughout the year.  In short, I'm going to test them on what I've taught.

So what can they expect, and why did I settle on this format?  Well first, the multiple choice questions serve a good purpose for me--- they are a quick standardized way to distribute the curve.  Second, the short answer questions will afford me an opportunity to test on narrow issues which don't lend themselves to integration into the issue spotter or the medium answer questions.  The medium answer questions are designed to be expanded versions of the hypotheticals we covered in class.  Finally the issue spotter helps me see how well they can tie together all of these disparate concepts. 

What can they actually expect?  Some of the questions will be nearly identical to those we covered in class.  Some will be adaptations of those hypotheticals we covered in class.  Finally, some will be questions premised upon issues we extensively discussed in class.  Because I believe that law school exams have the potential to be extremely unfair, I'm trying to make my final as close to what we covered in class as possible.  I don't want a student who prepared for every class, actively participated, took great notes and developed an analytical framework to walk out of my exam thinking "that was unfair, none of that looked like what we learned." 

My big challenges are 1) with an open book exam how close to the hypos I covered in class do I want to go 2) how do I ensure that there is some differentiation in the scores and 3) how do I not assign so much that the students can't finish the exam.  I don't want to test their ability to race, I want to test their ability to analyze, and an exam that is too long won't make for a fair assesment, whereas an exam that is too short won't sort itself out very well. 

I'll let you know in a few weeks what I settled on, I anticipate it will be a busy few weeks.

---Lex

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