Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An easier way to make exams

Recently, some of my colleagues bemoaned the effort of making up exams at the end of the term.  I wanted to share a trick that I have used, that makes creating exams much easier.  It might work for you too.

I work on exam questions throughout the term rather than waiting until the end.  A TA is assigned to each lecture, and is required to make up a couple of questions during or immediately after the lecture.  This way, we get ideas that pop into the TA's head but that might have been forgotten by the end of the term.  Another excellent source is student questions during class.  Likewise, we harvest common misperception and questions from office hours.  These often turn into excellent exam question as well, since they are topics that could confuse a student but that were covered in class.

More advice about creating an exam appears at http://homes.cs.washington.edu/~mernst/advice/exams.html

Don't scan your recommendation letters

Faculty are writing lots of recommendation letters right now.  One of my colleagues went to extra effort to print his letter, sign it, scan it, and then upload it.  Unfortunately, this was counterproductive.

If you are requested to provide a letter in PDF, provide the original PDF that was created by your word processor or typesetting program.  Don't scan the document, which makes it much harder to read.  You don't want eyestrain (or anything else) to lessen the impact of your letter.  You can either insert a PDF signature, or have just a typewritten signature; no one really cares whether your signature is on the letter.

Another irritation I have seen:  don't use "watermark" letterhead that puts a large, dim image (for example, of the university crest or logo) behind the text.  Some people apparently think this looks cool and sets their letter or institution apart (MIT CSAIL, I am looking at you), but in fact it makes the letter harder to read without impressing anyone.

More advice on writing a letter of recommendation appears at http://homes.cs.washington.edu/~mernst/advice/write-recommendation.html