Planning Your Exam

Follow these five steps to efficiently create an effective exam.

1.  Identify the learning outcome(s) you want the exam to assess.

  • The program-level learning outcome(s) you want to assess will serve as the basis of your exam items.

2.   For each outcome you intend to assess, generate a list of associated facts, theories, skills, etc.

  • Consider the knowledge and skills you would want your students to demonstrate in order to show that they’ve achieved the outcome.


3.  For each outcome component on the list, determine what type or level of learning is desired.

  • The action word in your learning outcome is a good indicator of the type of learning you expect students to demonstrate.
  • Knowing the type of learning that you expect students to demonstrate will help you to select the most appropriate item types; for example, if you need students to recognize important definitions or dates, you might decide to use a multiple choice item, but if you need students to come up with new examples, you might decide to use a short-answer question. For more information about item types, see Types of Exam Items.


4.  Create at least one exam item for each component on the list.

  • For program assessment, working with other program faculty to develop exam items helps ensure the exam reflects the priorities and draws on the expertise of multiple faculty members.
    • In addition, bringing multiple perspectives to the development of your exam will help ensure that items make sense, are error-free, and are designed to measure essential learning.
  • Consider asking students to contribute items.
    • This is a great way to see what your students think they are learning, engage them in reflective study, and get help with the exam writing process.

5.  Decide on an appropriate length and prioritize your items.

  • Ideally you would include as many items as you need to test the concepts associated with the outcome(s), but given real-world time limitations, consider the following rules of thumb for deciding how many items to include in your exam:
    • Students will need about three times as long as the professor would need to take the exam.
    • Allow about a minute for each item and five to ten minutes for students to review answers across the entire exam.

Return to Exams home page