Essay exams are good to use when trying to determine what students know about a few broad topics. Essay exams typically consist of a small number of questions to which the student is expected to demonstrate his/her ability to:
- recall knowledge
- organize this knowledge
- present the knowledge in a logical, integrated answer
Students should be given the criteria used to grade the exams in advance to help them prepare for them.
- Allows students to interpret and integrate their knowledge of course content.
- Easier and less time consuming to create than other question types.
- Provides a more realistic task for the student.
- Allows students to express individuality and creativity in their answers.
- Reduces guessing.
- Requires students to organize their own answers an
- to express them in their own words.
- Can efficiently measure higher order cognitive objectives.
- Time consuming to score.
- Students may complain about subjectivity in scoring.
- Difficult to measure a large amount of content.
- Generally has low test and scorer reliability.
- Can encourage bluffing.
Tips for Writing Essay Questions
- Specify the length of the answer desired for each question (e.g., number of words or pages)
- Require all students to answer the same questions.
- Indicate the relative importance of each question (e.g., time to be spent or points assigned).
- State questions precisely, clearly focusing on the desired answer.
Suggestions for Scoring
- Test the question yourself by writing an ideal answer to it. Develop your scoring criteria from this answer.
- Use either analytic scoring (point system) or holistic scoring rubrics (an overall score based on a set of criteria).
- Provide students the general scoring criteria by which they will be evaluated prior to the examination.
- Read and evaluate each student’s answer to the same question before scoring the next question.
- The student’s identity should remain anonymous during scoring.
- Keep scores of previously read questions out of sight.
- Decide on a policy for dealing with incorrect, irrelevant, or illegible responses.
- Write comments about the responses.
Marshall, J. C., & Hales, L. W. (1971). Classroom test construction. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley, p. 56.