7 Tips For Creating and Administering Your First Final Exam

Updated: May 9, 2019

My first year teaching chemistry, I was so overwhelmed during final exam time. With a "to-do" list a million miles long, the very last thing I wanted to think about was creating multiple 100+ question exams from scratch.

Here are a few tips that I hope will make your first round of final exams successful. I have also included copies of exams that you can feel free to use and modify depending on your needs (see the buttons above for the free download).

1. Sufficiently prep your students on what to expect on exam day.

  • There are a lot of moving pieces on exam day. I set up different areas of my room to be collection spots (for books, tests, Plickers codes, etc.). By letting students know how and where these materials should be turned in, the process happens very quickly (and is usually completed before the period technically begins).

  • Depending on your room layout, you may want to do a little rearranging to discourage cheating and allow your students to more easily focus on their exam. I usually spread my seating out more than usual and cover-up any posters or "decor" that may give some students an unfair advantage based on where they are sitting.

  • I like to have all supplemental materials on my students' desks as they come in (extra paper to show their work, charts with relevant values and data, periodic table, scan-tron, etc.). Students have previously been prepped not to touch these materials until they are instructed to begin.

  • I allow my students to bring a notecard in as a "cheat sheet." It helps them feel more confident coming into the exam, and as an added bonus to me, I do not have to provide them with an equation sheet. You certainly do not have to provide your students with equations, this is just what I have chosen to do in my classes. At this point of the year, I am more concerned with their ability to apply what they have learned than being able to regurgitate the equations we have used throughout the year.

2. Multiple choice questions will save your life.

  • Although these types of questions may take you longer to create, it will save you so much time grading afterwards.

  • If you are worried that this testing method may not be able to sufficiently summarize some of your students' understanding of the material, you can allow your students to create a project that engages some higher level thinking skills and have that assignment counts as half of their exam grade.

  • If you are able to, snag the scan-tron machine before you administer your exam so that you can grade them as soon as your students complete the exam. Even though the machine can grade the sheets quickly, you might not be able to quickly access the machine if many teachers are trying to use it.

3. Absolutely no talking or questions permitted during exams.

  • This is completely a personal decision, but I have witnessed way too many students subtly offering hints with passing comments or asking very specific questions louder than necessary.

  • Students may get frustrated by this policy, so make sure that they are aware of it before exam day (if this is what you choose to do).

  • I like to work through the exam at the same time as the students in case there are any issues that need to be addressed (such as correcting typos, informing students if a question has multiple correct answers, or telling them to skip a question altogether).

4. Be prepared for students to finish their final exam in less time than their first semester exam.

  • Most students will give a valiant final effort on their exam, but there will be some students who are just DONE. I mean, I can't blame them when summer break is waiting right outside your door. Make sure that students know what you expect of them after they finish their exam. I instruct my students to bring materials to study for other exams, books to read, or just take a nap!

  • Again, person preference here - My students are instructed to raise their hand when they have completed their exam for me to come to them to collect their materials. This prevents multiple students from walking around, reduces the disruptions for those who are working, and allows me to collect materials in a somewhat organized manner.

5. Create two versions of the exam.

  • This tip sounds daunting, but it does not take very long to rearrange questions and/or answers after you have already created your exam.

  • You can choose to tell your students that their exam is different from the exam of their neighbor if you would like. I do this for most of my tests, so usually, by this point of the year, my students are well aware that I create multiple versions of each test thanks to an unfortunate decision made by one of their classmates.

I know that I am talking a lot about cheating. My students are wonderful and very few purposefully cheat! I have just seen that when opportunities are presented, most times they are taken. I do all that I can to prevent these opportunities, because I do not like to be the one that has to administer the consequences!

6. Length is important.

  • When creating your exam, you want to make sure that you are sufficiently assessing your students' understanding and using the time that you are given. This means that you should allow your students sufficient time to complete what you are administering without filling the time with busywork.

  • This is certainly challenging and my exams tend to lean on the "too long" end of the spectrum. My rule of thumb is to give students at least twice the amount of time it takes me to complete the exam.

7. Back it up!

  • After you have spent so much time working on the exams, make sure you save it in a place that is easily accessible. I like to save my school related materials to my school AND personal Google Drives. This way, if you switch schools or have an email change, you will not loose all the materials that you have worked so hard to create.

  • If there are any typos or changes that need to be made to your exam, do it now. If you wait to do it the next year, you will forget what needs to be tweaked!

* I provide my students with a chart of standard thermodynamic property values to complete question #93

* This is a long exam. Depending on your exam period, you may want to shorten it.

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