How Not to Organize Written Exams

The traditional and efficient way for setting up and grading written exams is to have a professorship create the exam, supervise the actual exam, and then also have them grade it. They will usually use a team in the supervision of the exam and the grading, where work is split by exam question: One person (or a team in the case of a large exam) gets to grade one question across all exams. This ensures fairness, consistency, and speed.

Enter the Bavarian Ministry of Education. It invented a wholly different approach to creating and grading written exams. Here, it applies to students aiming to become informatics high school teachers.

First off, it is paper based, to create the extra hassles that come with shuffling around physical artifacts. We are not allowed to send anything by email, not exam questions, nor the exams. Rather, we send letters and sometimes large crates of paper.

Then, it is not one exam, but two rolled into one: We are handling both a database and software engineering exam.

Naturally we split the creation and grading of the exam by specialization, so both creation and grading has to be coordinated between a database and software engineering professor. More shuffling of paper around.

Make this the first doubling of coordination and work efforts.

Next, another professor has to double check my grading, so both my database colleague and I send on the exams to another set of professors for reviewing our grading.

Make this the second doubling of efforts.

Also, it would be too easy to just have students take one exam. Before we even get to the exams, we have to create two separate set of exam questions. During the actual exam, students choose which one they like better.

Another doubling of efforts (we are at factor 8 now).

Naturally, one set of students will choose exam 1 and the other set of students will choose exam 2. So now we have to grade double the amount of different questions.

Fourth doubling of effort (factor 16).

By Germany’s basic law it is professor’s prerogative to define exams and grade them. However, the ministry in the form of an unknown shadow examiner likes to change the exams without changing the solution and point system. Every professor, who grades, now has to reinvent a solution to make the exam work.

At this stage, we are into lala-land, with my colleagues upset (my questions weren’t changed), and me just scratching my head. So I better stop.

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