How Hard Should Your Test Be?

When I started as an instructor I struggled with the idea of how hard to make my tests and assignments.  Even with time, it is still a bit of a guess.  This past month, the Scientific American posted a blog summarizing some recent research.

In short, you don’t want your course or exam to be too easy, then students are challenged and true learning doesn’t occur, nor do you want the test to be so hard that no one can pass it.  The ideal sweet spot for learning is 85%.  At that point, students are being optimally challenged and are still getting enough correct answers to engage their interest and keep them motivated.

The theory is derived from the work of a team lead by Robert Wilson for the University of Arizona, whose team studied the ideal point of difficulty to enhance the learning of material and how the level of difficult impacted that learning.

If you want to read the blog post, click here:

If you want to read the research paper that it was based on, you can read it here:




Plan for the Unexpected

As you plan your day in the classroom, keep Murphy’s Law in mind, what ever can go wrong, will go wrong.  Make time for mistakes, for discussion, make time for the unexpected so that you don’t have to rush through the materials, so that there is time for questions.

Murphy would tell us though, that something will go wrong and the class will move faster than you though.  So, have a back up.  That material that is extra, that way if time moves too quickly, you have something to fill in with.

Make room for the unexpected.

The Case Against Extra Credit Assignments

A common request from students to instructors is for a ‘do over’ or for an extra piece of work to bring their grade up after falling short on an assignment.

Professor Wayne Stauffer writing for the Inside Higher Ed website gives a compelling argument for not allowing these extra assignments:

At it’s core is forcing students to take accountability for their work, the first time, so that they put the proper effort into assignments every time.

Not mentioned in the article, put something to also be aware of, is fairness.  If you allow one student a rewrite, what about everyone else in the class?

It’s such a common request at PACE that instructors should give thought to it before the class starts and how they will respond to requests.