Between inventing problems, agonizing over making sure material is adequately covered and that the problems are reasonable and sufficiently different from the practice exams, and then making a second version, it's taking me upwards of 20 hours total. (I'm just estimating. Didn't get out my stopwatch.) Is this reasonable, or am I abnormal?


1 Answer 1


Take as long as you need to write the exam, but time how long it takes you to undertake it

For creating a new exam from scratch, that doesn't sound unreasonable to me. Crafting new mathematical problems and solutions from scratch is time-consuming and so is crafting a new exam. If I recall correctly, I would say I've also taken that long to craft a final exam before.

You should bear in mind that the time taken to construct new questions and form these into an overall exam with adequate coverage varies wildly depending on how much practice one has had and how many times one has taught a course before. Usually it takes a substantial amount of time to craft initial problems and exams for a course but then this get easier and faster each subsequent time you teach the course. If you repeatedly teach the same course you may get to the point where you can write a new exam in 2-3 hours instead of 20 hours. In any case, it really doesn't matter --- being a professional means that we take as long as we need to do our jobs properly, and if it takes a long time then it takes a long time.

In regard to concerns about timing, I'd stress that it's not very important how long it takes you to write the exam but it is important how long it takes you to undertake the exam. After you have finished writing the exam, give yourself a few days to forget it and then time yourself taking the exam as if you were a student seeing it for the first time. (Even if you've given yourself a few days you will need to artificially "forget" it as you work through it so that you don't work too fast. Make yourself go over the thinking time you would have needed if you didn't just write these questions a couple of days ago.) As a general rule-of-thumb, for an undergraduate course the lecturer should be able to complete the exam in about one-third of the allowable time, and in a graduate course the lecturer should be able to complete the exam in about one-half of the allowable time. If you are taking longer than that to undertake your own exams then it is an indicator that the allowable time for the exam is too short.

  • I think this is pretty much a good answer except that it does deliberately dodge answering the question as written. Yes, one should produce good work materials. But maybe the asker would like to know whether they're somehow being unusually inefficient for future instances of this problem?
    – user137975
    Dec 12, 2022 at 4:19
  • 1
    That aspect of the question appears to me to be answered in the first sentence.
    – Ben
    Dec 12, 2022 at 7:07

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