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Making Exams Fair

To some students, final exams rarely seem fair, but Janet Stemwedel has been discussing how she strives to make sure that the first section to sit down at the exam has the same explanations as the following groups. Of course, she writes, she tries to make her exams as clear as possible but sometimes a question comes up late in the first seating or in a subsequent exam section. "Would there be something unfair about issuing such a clarification, given that at least half the students in the first sitting of the exam weren't given this clarification? Or is the fact that so many students in the first sitting of the exam didn't seem to need this clarification evidence that the bit of the exam in question was clear enough to get the job done?" she asks.

Stemwedel also says she sets up her tests so that students don't have much of an incentive to cheat. First, she hands out detailed review sheets, complete with topics that will be on the exam, the test format, sample questions, and three essay questions, one of which they'll have to address in the test. Secondly, she allows her students to bring in one page of notes to the exam. "What I'm testing for, after all, is not their powers of recall but their understanding of the material," she says.