Top tips

I’ve recently been asked for my ‘top tips’ for writing interactive computer-marking assignment (iCMA) questions. I thought I might as well nail my colours to the mast and post them here too:

•  Before you start writing iCMA questions, think about what it is appropriate to assess in this way – and what it isn’t.

•  Think about what types of iCMA question are most appropriate for what you want to assess. Don’t assume that multiple-choice and multiple-response questions are more reliable than free-text entry questions – they aren’t!

•  Write multiple variants of your questions – this enables you to use the same basic template in writing questions for multiple purposes, reduces opportunities for plagiarism and gives students extra opportunities for practice. However, in summative use, make the variants of similar difficulty.

•  For multiple response questions (where students have to select a number of correct options), tell students how many options are required (otherwise students get very frustrated).

•  Check carefully that each question is unambiguous. Does it use language that all students should understand? If you want an answer in its simplest possible form, is this clear?

•  Think carefully about what you will accept as a correct answer. Do you want to accept miss-spellings (e.g. ‘sulphur’ instead of ‘sulfur’), surplus text etc. If in doubt, have surplus text at the end of a response removed before the response is checked. Students are not happy if their response is marked wrong because, for example, they have indicated the precision of an answer by typing ‘to 3 significant figures’ at the end of a perfectly correct numerical answer.

•  Wherever possible, give feedback that is tailored to the error that a student has made. (Students get very annoyed when they are given general feedback that assumes they don’t know where to start, where to their mind they have made a ‘small’ error late in the process, e.g. given incorrect units).

•  If a response is partially correct, tell the student that this is the case (preferably telling them what is right and what is wrong).

•  Check your questions carefully at each stage, and – especially important – get someone else to check them.

•  Monitor ‘real’ use of your questions and look at student responses to them. Check that your variants are of sufficiently similar difficulty. Be prepared to make improvements at this stage.

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  1. Pingback: e-assessment (f)or learning » Blog Archive » Checking questions

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