Creating and Marking University Exams and Assignments



  • Before starting to write questions, make a list of the most important points that you have covered in class. Avoid testing small details; focus on the major themes.
  • Think about the types of questions (multiple choice, true-false, short answer, essay) that will best assess the students’ knowledge of these points. For advantages and disadvantages of different question types, see
  • Write clear, easy-to-follow questions and use vocabulary that you know everyone will understand. Avoid including useless or trivial information.
  • Group similar types of questions together (all Multiple Choice together, all true/false together, etc.)
  • Give specific directions and be clear about how many points a question is worth. Give a limited amount of space for students to write. This will prevent them from writing everything they know when in fact you only needed them to list five good points.
  • Number each page of the exam, include your name and leave a space for the student to include their name. If the exam comes apart, it will be no problem to find all the pieces.
  • When formatting your exam, leave lots of space for marking. Include big margins and space between questions.
  • Be clear about what aids (if any) are allowed during the exam.
  • Practice taking your own tests. What takes you 30 minutes will take your students at least 1 hour.
  • Give students options for demonstrating that learning has occurred. Alternate assignments can allow students who face unique challenges the chance to show what they really do know.


  • Make a rubric that highlights the main ideas each student needs to address in order to get full marks. Assign a mark value to each idea.
  • Create sample answers to all questions.
  • Write the number of points deducted from each question in the margin next to the question. Sum these numbers and circle the sum at the bottom of each page. At the end, you just have to add up the circled numbers and subtract from the total.
  • Make sure that the correct answers will be available to students. You can take it up in class or post an answer key.

Multiple choice questions


  • A main challenge when writing a multiple choice exam is to pose questions that require more than just factual recall to be correctly answered. A good multiple choice question is clearly written and requires students to synthesize the material that they learned in the course in order to arrive at an answer that goes beyond what is written in their notes. Below are some tips for writing clear, effective multiple choice questions.
  • Make questions that really are questions, not fill-in-the blanks and make them as short and clear as possible.
  • Be sure to use vocabulary that all of your students will understand. It is fair to assume that they will be familiar with terms that you have taught in class, but non-material related terms should be as simple as possible (e.g. “use” not “utilize”; “try” not “endeavour”; “speed up” not “expedite”).
  • Try to use each of A, B, C, D, and E as a correct answer approximately the same number of times.
  • Make sure that in general all answer choices are approximately the same length, have similar sentence structure and seem plausible. Consider using incorrect answers that students have given on previous tests as your incorrect choices.
  • Avoid negative wording in questions.
  • Avoid “all of the above responses”, as they allow students to get credit for partial knowledge (e.g. They’ve never heard of option C, but they KNOW options A and B are correct, so the answer must be D, all of the above).
  • Avoid multiple multiple questions (the ones where students are given options i) through v) and then have to select the correct answer a) through e), where answer options are things like: a) i and iii; b) iv)and not v; etc.)
  • Make sure that there is only ONE correct answer.
  • Proof-read carefully to get rid of distracting spelling and grammatical errors.
  • For examples of good multiple choice question formats, click here:
  • Remember, it takes a long time to write a good multiple choice questions. If you are responsible for setting a multiple choice exam, leave yourself more than enough time to do a good job.
  • When students are writing a multiple choice exam, be sure to remind them to use pencil and to carefully fill in the correct answers. Also be clear about whether there will be time at the end for them to transfer answers onto their Scantron form or whether they should be transferring as they go.


  • Marking multiple choice is easy! The Scantron service is available here at UWO and it is free. Check out the Social Sciences Network and Data Services webpage ( to learn more.

Essay assignments

  • Give specific guidelines about formatting issues: how long should the paper be? What font/margin sizes are okay? Are external sources required? What citation method do you require? Do you require a clear thesis statement?
  • Decide how long you should take to mark each paper and then stick to your goal. Too many comments can be overwhelming, so prioritize your comments, making sure to give the most detail to the most important points.
  • Consider not using a red pen; students can find comments in red to be upsetting. Green and purple ink are both good options.
  • If you are feeling unsure about the range of marks that you should be assigning, consider reading all of the papers and making comments, but leaving off the final mark. When you are done, arrange the papers from best to worst and then assign the marks. Alternatively,mark as you go, but put the marks on a separate sheet of paper. That way, if you need to make changes, you can.
  • Resist the temptation to “fix” the paper. If you see an organizational flaw, point this out, but do not suggest how to rewrite the paper. This is the student’s job!
  • Save time by pointing out themes in grammatical errors, instead of every single mistake.
  • Don’t just point out mistakes. If a student did something particularly well, acknowledge this also.
  • Finish up marking by writing the student an overall comment about their essay. Try to start by addressing what was good about the essay and then move onto make suggestions about how it could be improved. Limit yourself to the main points; too many comments about little things can be overwhelming. Finally, make sure your comments are legible – your efforts are in vain if the student can’t read your handwriting!

Marking participation

Sometimes you will be asked to grade student participation. This may be as simple as taking attendance or as complicated as assessing the quantity/quality of each student’s involvement in daily discussions. This process can seem subjective, both to you and the students. Here are some tips for making it more objective:

i) Set criteria for participation and give each student a mark every class or every week. At the end of the term, calculate their final score. This way you are marking students individual contributions instead of an overall “feeling” about how they performed over the entire term.

ii) Have students submit their own participation mark every two weeks. Return their mark with a mark of your own. This allows them regular feedback about your expectations.