Memorial Day was my day of work. I didn’t get much work done.

However much I racked my brains, I had tried and failed to brainstorm good multiple-choice questions. However long I stared at Microsoft Word, satisfactory test items just didn’t come. Then, an idea.

Inspired by a faint memory of one of my high school teachers, I decided to let my seniors write their own test questions for this semester’s pass-the-class-in-order-to-graduate cumulative final. Having students write hypothetical questions about course content is an excellent review activity — that’s the main impetus behind a local iteration of Cornell Notes, at least.

I gave them a short primer on effective test questions — make the question a complete sentence, have all the answers about the same length, no silly answers — and a list of a few topics I’d like questions written about. I warned that only the very best questions would make the cut.

At the very least, it was an excellent way to gauge which students needed help understanding the content, and who was doing just fine. I could then intercede on their behalf and give them a little nudge in the right direction.

There was a range of questions, including fact-recall:

22. What are the names of three major Federalists?
a. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson.
b. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry.
c. John Jay, James Madison, George Washington.
d. James Madison, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton.

There were some questions with a little bit of higher thinking:

5. In which system of government do states have more power than a national government?
a. Unitary.
b. Confederacy.
c. Federal.
d. Communist.

I rewrote most of the rest to make them a little bit more challenging, or edited them for style errors.

Of course, I had a few questions that certainly didn’t make the cut.

xii. What are names of the two houses of Congress?
a. Executive, judicial.
b. Legislative, Supreme Court.
c. Judicial, executive.
d. White House, Pentagon.

In case you don’t know American government, this doesn’t even include the correct answers. Considering who giggled as I read that question, it’s safe to say that this was a joke, but just to be sure, I walked that whole section of the class through the names of each house in our bicameral duplex of a legislature.

Just plain silly made an appearance, also.

vi. Why am I so sexy?
a. My style.
b. My looks.
c. My hair.
d. The way I talk.

Seniors. Sheesh.

The student who wrote this question made sure to ask me the next day what I thought of it. I hesitated a bit, and then told him, jokingly.

I’m not going to put it on the test. It had a false premise.

After two minutes with a dictionary, he laughed out loud.

  1. This method is good for a few reasons.

    1. It gives students one more repetition with the material
    2. They kind of think they are getting over 1 on you b/c they are making the exam so they will be a little more motivated.
    3. Students take ownership and then you can just put whatever you want on the exam and still tell them the questions were all made by students.

  2. As for No. 3, I agree on the students taking ownership, but I’m not about to lie about the origin of quite a lot of the test questions, or say that I didn’t re-edit all of their questions for the test.

    Not that I think that’s what you’re suggesting — I’m just clarifying. I think.

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