Question design for exams

A traditional examination with students completing unseen papersAs summative end-of-year exam questions need to be approved by external examiners, there is often a significant lead-in time. As such, you may well find that you are writing your exam questions before you've even taught the material.

Top tip: When using exam-based assessments it's worth bearing in mind the following...

  • Students should be given chance to practice the exam format. Students should be given opportunities to rehearse examinations, e.g. through the use of formative 'mock' papers. This enables them to familiarise themselves with the format of the exam, to direct their learning appropriately and can help reduce the chances of 'sudden death syndrome'1. This is particularly important if there has been a change in the format of an exam from one year to the next.
  • If you are new to writing exam papers it's worth talking with your colleagues. Other staff within your department will be able to share the benefit of their experiences and looking at past papers can give you insight into both the content and style of examination questions.  
  • Ask yourself if an examination is the best way to assess your students. An examination may well be the idea way for you to assess your students, but there may be other assessment methods you could use.


  1. Race, P. (2001). The Lecturers Toolkit. London. Kogan Page

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