I teach a language course on 1st year BA level. The students should be able to translate basic sentences, and this is to be tested in a written exam. I'm looking for resources on how to design the exam. I have already made an assessment matrix and determined the weight of the translation exercises in the exam (they also need to parse some forms and the like).

I understand that most of what we have treated should appear at least once and can come up with sentences for the students to translate. What I'm having trouble with is the scoring. From what I've heard I should divide sentences into smaller blocks, like a verb or noun phrase, and assign points. I'm looking for some hands-on explanation how to divide the text into sensible blocks and assign points, to make sure that the blocks are as independent as possible.

Searching for tips on how to do this is difficult, I mostly find results about taking translation tests instead of designing them. Any references or tips on how to search would be appreciated.

This will be a written exam, taken on-campus.

  • I think the question fits better on Language Learning SE. Please read their Help, in particular, What topics can I ask about here?
    – Nobody
    Feb 27, 2021 at 9:26
  • @scaaahu I thought about that, but their recent questions seemed mostly from self-learners. I wanted to leave the question here to see if I'd get a response, and if not request migration.
    – user135650
    Feb 27, 2021 at 9:31
  • 1
    They are a beta SE site. Not too many questions and answers so far. You help them grow by asking questions, they help you by answering your questions
    – Nobody
    Feb 27, 2021 at 10:09
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    @DanielHatton I will do that as well, but I'd also like some theory to follow instead of mimicking someone else's work.
    – user135650
    Feb 27, 2021 at 16:19
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    I do not think you’ll find any widely accepted theory, of the kind you seem to want. There is lots of education research but only a minority of educators try to use it systematically. Most teaching is still done, as it were, artisanally. Feb 27, 2021 at 18:06

2 Answers 2


Consider following backward design: first, identify your goals; then, determine how you will evaluate them. What do you hope the students can do that this tool assesses? In my mind, it's impossible to say how you should break down your translation exercises without knowing this.

Some possible options...

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to understand the central idea of a text in a source language and render this idea in a target language.

If this is your goal, the basic unit of the passage to be translated is the semantic one. Tally up the ideas you think are the most important. For example, taking this sentence of Dickens':

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

A translation would have to capture (i) laughter is "contagious", spreading easily; (ii) nothing compares to it for contagiousness. You would deduct marks for such mistakes as applying "irresistible" to the laughter itself or saying that there's nothing in the world like a laugh.

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to reproduce in a target language the idiom and style of a text in a source language.

If this is your goal, the basic unit of the passage is the sentiment: the imagery, the positive/negative skew, the connotations. For example, taking this sentence of Dickens':

“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”

A translation would have to capture (i) the repeated rhythm of "against X"; (ii) the startling contrast between the positivity of the first five abstract nouns and the negativity of "discouragement" that is intended to summarize them.

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to identify and effect various types of modulation and transposition in translating a text from a source language to a target language.

If this is your goal, the basic unit of the passage is syntactic group: noun phrase, verb phrase, adverbial complement, etc. For example, in this sentence of Camus':

“En entrant, Cottard et Rambert essuyèrent leur front.”
As they entered, Cottard and Rambert wiped their foreheads.

A translation would need to (i) avoid rendering "en entrant" awkwardly as a participle; (ii) make sure the singular "front" ends up as the plural "foreheads".

  • By the end of this course, students will be able to do all of the above...

Then your rubric (or discrete rubrics for discrete exercises) can capture all those aspects under various headings, or whichever other ones correspond to your goals.


You may not like this answer but if you need to ask or search on the internet how to design or score an exam, you should not be designing the exam. At least not by yourself.

Don't take this the wrong way: you have taken the right step by realising that you need help (hence your question here), but you are asking the wrong people. Seek help from at least one experienced colleague! Even if this is a first year exam, the future of students may depend on it.

  • 1
    Yes, thanks, I'm doing that as well (see the comments). I'm anticipating they will not give me the theoretical background though.
    – user135650
    Feb 27, 2021 at 19:32