Preparing and Administering Tests & Exams: A Guide

A photograph from above of rows of desks with students taking tests in them.

The purpose of exams is to assess student learning. Exams are not meant to trick students or confuse them. Exam questions should be related to important learning outcomes, objectives, goals, and/or course competencies. These learning outcomes should be clearly stated to students and guide the creation of exam questions. In this article, we provide tips for preparing for and administering exams and tests in the college classroom.

Tips for Preparing Tests & Exams

  • Draft the exam far enough in advance to allow for revisions and printing. The administrative staff in the department can answer questions about copying services and the availability of computer-readable answer sheets.
  • Before delivering an exam, have another instructor or colleague read the exam. Not only can another instructor identify typographical errors (which can confuse students and cost them valuable time during the test), but they can also catch questions that are confusing.
  • Read these tips for writing strong multiple choice items.
  • See the Teaching Commons Assessment Teaching Essential for more on writing tests and exams.

Tips for Administering Tests & Exams

  • The testing environment should be quiet and free of distractions.
  • Interruptions should be minimized. It is good to tell students before the exam that announcements, instructions, or corrections will be written on the board. Giving a warning (e.g., 10 minutes) before collecting tests is a good practice.
  • Rules about test taking should be specified in advance. For example, the syllabus might state that picture identification will be required on test days. Students should be told in advance if they will not be allowed to wear hats with brims when taking exams.
  • As a courtesy to students, instructors should consider bringing extra exams, pencils, Scantron sheets, and answer sheets/blue books to each exam, in order to be prepared for students’ emergencies (such as a student filling in a Scantron with an ink pen or another student spilling coffee on their test).
  • Be prepared with accommodations for students who need them.
  • If testing is administered online, the instructor must be prepared to handle situations that arise when the online system is down. For example, if the system goes down while a student is taking a test, how will be student be given time to finish?
  • Testing scheduled online or in the testing center should not be scheduled outside of the regularly scheduled class time in order to avoid creating conflicts with students’ class schedules. To set up testing in the Testing Center, visit the Testing Center website.