Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Nov. 15, 1996

Forum focuses on good exams

by Anne Dolan
Developing good exams will be the discussion topic at the next Faculty Forum and Dinner Monday, Dec. 2, in the Memorial Union Campanile Room.

Steve Richardson, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, will begin the discussion.

Richardson said he hopes to make at least two key points. The first is that if faculty have waited until the first week in December to design the final exams for their fall courses, it's too late.

"The timing of exams is the only thing many faculty consider before they're upon us," he noted. "We tend to think we can worry about the details later."

Ideally, though, faculty are preparing their exams as they move through the semester, to be sure there's a fair correlation between class discussions and exam content, and the exam doesn't become "an accidental afterthought."

An exam should be an integral part of each course, he said.

Secondly, Richardson said he would like to review educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom's 2-D approach to designing an exam. In Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the author wrote that teachers need to define the content the exam covers and the level of understanding they expect students to achieve. Bloom outlines about a half dozen levels of understanding, from simple definition kinds of questions to questions that require some kind of synthesis, analysis or application of the subject matter to new situations. The highest level of understanding requires students to make personal or value judgments on what they have studied.

Richardson noted that most exams tend to evaluate students at a lower level of understanding, perhaps in part because students are comfortable with that type of a test. But he also noted that essay exams inherently are no more analytical than multiple-choice formats.

Dinner reservations are due by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, to Jane Henning, 4-2906, e-mail: Social time is at 5:30 p.m.; dinner at 6 p.m. Discussion begins at approximately 6:45 p.m. Faculty unable to arrive in time for dinner are welcome to join the discussion.

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