Top 5 Essential Qualities of A Well-Designed Exam Paper: What Teachers Should Know

August 16, 2023 | By: Extramarks

Engaging Exam Papers

Exams are among the most common assessment tools used by teachers. While the main purpose for conducting examinations is to test students’ learning outcomes and identify their points of strengths and weaknesses, it may also be used to determine prior knowledge, evaluate program effectiveness or for diagnostic purposes. Exams are generally considered easy to administer and grade; however, designing a good question paper can be a challenge. Often, question papers could be under debate for their level of complexity or lengthy content. 

In today’s blog, we explore the top qualities of a good exam that serves as a comprehensive guide for teachers to design question papers that support student learning in the best way possible. 

What is The Process of Developing A Good Exam Paper? 

The first step in designing an exam paper will always be to identify a clear objective for the examination. Tests can be conducted to assess students’ knowledge and help them secure admissions for the next semester, higher education, scholarships or even placements. It is important for teachers to define a clear objective and design the examination format accordingly. 

Here’s an informative read on the ‘most popular types of exam questions‘ and their characteristics. 

These are some key perspectives that every teacher should keep in mind while curating a question paper:

1. Objective and scope of examination 

2. Design and format of questions 

3. Relative weightage of concepts 

4. Analysis of questions 

5. Assessment aspects

6. Criteria for moderation 

When it comes to the process of developing a question paper, there are essentially 4 clear steps to follow based on the scale of the examination and the purpose of assessment. Let’s take a brief look at this four-step process:

Step 1: Develop An Assessment Framework 

An effective assessment framework is based on the objective of the test and details the learning outcomes, specific competencies, content domains and skills that need to be assessed. 

Step 2: Design A Blueprint 

Based on the assessment framework, teachers should create a blueprint that details all the content domains to be tested, question formats and types – Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs), short-answers etc., total length of the test and an aggregate percentage of different content areas within the test. 

Step 3: Choose An Effective Test Format and Scoring Guides 

Broadly, the types of exam questions are either selected-response questions such as true or false, MCQs, etc. or constructed-response questions like long-essay type questions. It is important that the scoring guide should be aligned with the cognitive level of the questions. 

Step 4: Conduct Tool Validation 

Once the blueprint and test format is ready, teachers should follow this up by conducting a tool validation to examine the accuracy of the paper, check alignment of questions, clarity of language, review scoring guides, etc. Classical Test Theory, Item Response Theory, Pilot Testing and paneling are a few processes of tool validation. 

Top 5 Qualities of A Good Exam Paper

Exam Papers

An exam paper should be designed with the intent to enhance students’ learning outcomes by testing their knowledge effectively. A common mistake that some teachers make is that they create high stake question papers that greatly challenge students’ comprehension of topics. This could demotivate students and create undue academic pressure. What teachers should aim to do instead is design a versatile question paper that has a balance of both simple and complex topics. In order to make this process easier for teachers, here are 5 qualities that a good exam paper should have: 

1. Reliability 

The extent to which a student’s test scores are consistent across different occasions and editions of testing is what denotes the reliability of a test. If a student manages to get the same scores even when they are exposed to different questions across varied times and places, the test can be considered reliable. Teachers should focus on creating tests that offer balanced score distribution and standard deviation (variation in scores).  

2. Validity 

The content validity of a question paper is directly dependent on the objective of a test. It can be achieved when the test successfully measures what it intended to measure. Validity is important to gauge the quality of the test and check if it aligns with the objective set by teachers. Let’s say an exam paper has more than 50% questions from a single chapter. Such a test would lack content validity. 

3. Objectivity

Objectivity in a test refers to the degree to which the questions reflect personal or subjective judgment. For example, if an exam has only essay-type questions, every student will have a different variation of the answer based on their personal opinion and style of writing. In this case, if more than one teacher checks the test, the scores are likely to vary based on their subjective judgment of answers. The test therefore lacks objectivity. 

4. Comprehensiveness

Ideally, an exam paper should be well-balanced and offer a good mix of objective and subjective questions. Teachers must attempt to include questions across varying levels- simple, intermediate and advanced (if neccessary). The goal is to create a question paper that is fair and can effectively test the abilities of students with varied aptitudes for learning.  

5. Absence of ambiguity 

While preparing an exam paper, teachers should pay close attention to framing questions that are clear, easy for students to understand and free of grammatical errors. Carefully review and edit test questions to stay clear of any ambiguities. 

Key Principles For Creating An Effective Exam Paper

A good question paper is one that can effectively test students across all the areas of learning. Curating such a versatile form of assessment is no short of a skill that comes with practice, experience and experimentation. To enhance your test development skills and strategies, consider these 4 principles to help you design question papers that align with test objectives:  

1. Craft Higher-Order Questions 

A good examination should evaluate essential concepts using a combination of basic, intermediate and advanced-level questions. Include a good mix of different types of questions like MCQs, short answers, definitions, etc. to test students across multiple levels. Moreover, try to incorporate application questions like vignettes, challenges, problem-solving or opinion-based questions that put their knowledge to test and strengthen higher-level thinking skills. Teachers can also involve explanation questions with examples that will urge students to reflect on concepts and demonstrate their understanding. 

2. Clarify Testing Conditions 

It is important to design test papers that are clear and easy to comprehend. Teachers should share their expectations about factors such as allowable resources, topics that will be tackled in the exam, total duration of the examination, assessment criteria and so on. This will ensure that students are well-informed beforehand and can prepare for the exam accordingly. 

3. Prepare A Fair Marking Scheme 

Develop a transparent marking criteria that is fair and comprehensive. Teachers should clearly communicate with students regarding the marking process and set clear expectations. For example, if a student has misspelled a word multiple times throughout the examination, they should be marked negatively for it only once. Besides, marks should be distributed based on the length and scope of the question. 

4. Highlight How The Test Aligns With The Course Objective 

Evaluate the course objectives that the exam addresses and mention them clearly. An example of this would be something like ‘This examination aims to assess your ability to use the right terminology effectively and demonstrate your understanding of key concepts across the course material to date.’ When students are clear on the exam objectives, it reassures them about their abilities to perform well. 

Ideally, an examination should be a form of assessment that is a win-win for both students and teachers. If students are having to re-read questions in order to understand them or find the exam format too complex, the objective of building meaningful rather than surface-level knowledge may not be possible. 

How Extramarks Helps Enhance The Quality of Exam Papers

The Extramarks Teaching App enables teachers to have a hassle-free experience of designing question papers by automating assessment activities. It is an integrated assessment solution that streamlines test creation and administration. Teachers can explore cutting-edge features like pre-designed repositories of readymade test templates, question banks, a diverse range of different question formats, power questions and much more! 

In fact, the app utilizes AI-powered technology to instantly evaluate tests and provide comprehensive feedback. The powerful assessment center offers actionable insights such as detailed class reports, tracking how much time students spend on each question, prompt recommendations on areas of improvement and performance analysis. Teachers also have the option to create tests online and print them out to conduct in-person testing. These offline answer sheets can also be scanned and uploaded online for automatic assessment. 

As a teacher, your role in curating a test paper should be based on factors that enhance your students’ academic experiences. Check out the Extramarks Teaching App to find AI-powerful assessment features that enables teachers to create high quality tests with ease! 

Last Updated on August 29, 2023

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