One of the biggest questions faculty have as they move their courses online is how assessments will work when they can’t see their students taking quizzes or tests. Questions inevitably arise about students sharing answers or taking tests together, since the instructor isn’t there to see the students while they take the tests.
While there are services out there that will monitor students as they take the test, often referred to as online proctors, these come with an added cost and still need to be scheduled, eliminating one of the main draws for students—that they can work based on their own schedule—even at 3 a.m. These services tend to work best in high-stakes tests as well, meaning major exams for the course rather than weekly tests or quizzes. (We won’t get into that territory today, however.)
A better approach for most general assessments throughout the course is to set up lots of variation through randomized tests and quizzes, and to keep expanding the range of possible questions (so that from one quarter to the next, the possibility that two students in the same course would see the same questions, or in the same order, decreases).
The quickest answer here is to use the quiz tools built in to modern LMS systems, along with a strong test bank set up that will allow instructors to easily vary the test questions to students while ensuring that they can maintain a balance of topics where necessary. This also helps to create exams for midterms or finals that are based on the materials covered throughout the quarter.
Finding Test Questions
The easiest place to start is with an existing quiz—this can be one that you’ve used in previous quarters as a paper test in class, or even as a test file available from the publisher of the textbook used in class (many publishers will provide course packs for the LMS system at your school—check with your book sales rep or publisher to find out more).
For existing quizzes in a digital file, you can reformat your quiz to work with an import tool like Respondus (Windows only, requires subscription) or UW’s wonderful import tool (Mac and Windows, free). These tools help to put the questions into a form that can be imported into the LMS, as well as ensuring that the answer key is imported alongside the questions.
For paper-based quizzes where you no longer have the digital file to work from, I use an app from Microsoft called Office Lens (IOS, Android, and Windows Mobile) that can take an image of a document and turn it back into an editable digital file. While it sometimes comes in with some inaccuracies in cases where the font was hard to read or the blur from years of being photocopied over and over prevented a clear match, it is still much easier to fix these issues than it is to retype the whole thing. Once it is digitized, you can then run it through one of the programs above.
Another source, often overlooked, is fellow instructors. As we teach our courses, we may develop different versions of the questions we use, or add new case studies and examples to questions to slightly change the view students must take while responding. By sharing a few versions of the questions, we are able to increase the size of the test banks without adding much more work for ourselves each quarter.
The important thing to take away here is to keep updating and adding new questions. As new examples or concepts become available, we can keep the materials varied as we build upon the availability of random questions that help to ensure that each student sees different questions while getting the same type of assessment.
Creating the Bank
While each system has different ways to create a test bank to draw from, one of the key elements for designing good quizzes is an obsessive sense of organization.
The easiest and most obvious way is to build the categories based on chapter, unit, or reading so that as each item is wrapping up, you can quickly create a quiz from the corresponding materials. This is also how most publisher test bank files will come in the course pack.
Things get even more interesting though when the questions are organized by type, such as having a section for True/False, Multiple Choice, and Case Study/Essay, or by topic, such as having a section on grammar, a section on punctuation, and a section on sentence structures. Using this structure, it is easy to create a quiz that has 10 random T/F, 20 random MC, and 2 random Essays. With the question type setup, each student gets the same type of exam, but not the same questions on the exam—and as the bank grows quarter to quarter, the range of possible questions grows as well. With the topic setup, each student could get 5 questions on each topic, but not see the same ones for each student.
Building the Tests
Using the organization logic above, it becomes possible to build exams that pull a certain number of questions from each chapter or topic into a midterm or a final, so that you know each area of the course has been covered but don’t need to fret over building individual exams, or over one student getting more of the easy questions from chapters 1 or 2 than other students who get more from chapters 20 or 21.
The tests can then be copied from quarter to quarter, and as the test bank it is drawing from grows, so does the variation that the students see, helping to prevent answer sharing while still preserving a balance of question types and difficulty.
Using Quizzes as Study Aids
The test bank or question library also helps when using short quizzes for self assessment or as a study aid. With a large enough bank, students can test themselves on the materials accurately, since the larger the bank file is, the less likely it is they can guess answers through process of elimination. A large bank with an open self-assessment, or with a quiz that allows only a few attempts would give students and instructors a good idea of what topics the student may not understand, since taking the same quiz 3 different times with similar topics but different questions would clearly indicate if they understand things well enough or are just memorizing/guessing basic answers to the questions.
Now Open for Deposits
How have you used test banks in your courses? What tips and tricks can you share about finding, creating, or organizing test questions/banks to help add variation?