Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Exams: harder for teachers than for students.

I am having so much trouble getting creative about exam questions, and I only have to do a few for my co-taught course here (and I am responsible for far less material than the course director)! I feel an obligation to come up with something interesting and challenging, but that is still within the capabilities of the best students in the class. I think stereochemistry (my main topic) might be one of the hardest chemistry topics for which to do this. For one, it is so easy to accidentally screw up your design of the question because there are so many perspectives on molecules that can lead you astray. For two, I used all my good ideas last year and for the previous exam this year, so coming up with something fresh is really wracking my brain. For three, my mental prowess has checked OUT as of about two weeks ago, and I am feeling like I have oatmeal in my head. Stereochemical creativity and late pregnancy do not go well together.

I don't want to, and absolutely refuse to, go with the 'search the internet and find something someone else has done.' Nor do I want to just slightly alter some question from before, without incorporating a substantially different challenge of some kind. So, that leaves me with no choice but to wrack my brain and meditate until I chance upon some great idea for these questions. I'm gonna have to make sure I develop this skill, because in a few years I'll be on my own for the whole course, rather than just a couple of chapters. Dang.


JaneDoh said...

Agreed. I never realized how hard it is to come up with a fair exam. For my big undergrad class, I need to do 2 midterms and a final, plus a supplemental exam. It is a huge amount of work!

Anonymous said...

I thought I was alone. I spend whole day just to come up with couple of exam papers. I think it is also a skill to set the paper according to the class you have in that semester. One has to get the pulse of the class and the average capability. It is easier to set a paper when you have a bright class, and you can afford to be a bit hard. It is a nightmare to do so when you teach a dull class. In that sense, I think, it is easier to teach at tire 1 University, and as such they will have less teaching loads. At small places, you have to teach multiple courses, and you have to teach to enable the dumb students. The paradox is that those very dull students evaluate the worth of the teacher! Non-majors are the big pain to handle. It is daunting task. Often, people dedicate the whole semester to teaching, and the research goes to attic. Preparation of good teaching materials (PPTs, Exams, Problem sets, Study guides, Summaries and Quizzes) takes so many man ( sorry Human) years. I only wish you good luck to handle the whole course on your own.
Funny part is that it is the same shit and same approach in all the Text Books of some extent the questions and figures are same. Holy crap. I do not understand why the heck we have so many different authors. I wish somebody experienced can blog on preparation of good teaching materials and striking a balance etc

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I like reusing a subset of final exam questions from previous years (the students do not get their finals back) because it gives me a nice way to track class progress. It saves me prep time AND gives me something to write about in my tenure packet, if trends emerge.