Microsoft Word is the standard product for documents in my department as far as the administration is concerned. Final exams go through a work-flow that involves department secretaries creating a standard cover page, professors providing "content", and the final product is approved by the department chair. In 2001, this was OK. Now, after having used online course systems such as Moodle with question banks, I find it really frustrating.
Word has been inadequate (for my exam preparation) for years. Here are some of the reasons:
- There's no template (
.dotx) file that contains the formatting information for that which is a university exam, including styles for short-answer questions, multiple-choice, essay, etc. Secretaries just send me last semester's exam, with the updated cover page, and I'm asked to update the content of my exam. I once attempted to define numbered questions in Word styles, but the Word styles have become polluted over the semesters (especially when other instructors are involved, who may or may not use Word styles properly). It's a nightmare to try to strip out the junk (especially since the cover page has some formatting styles that get introduced). Sadly, most secretaries use Word as a kind of hi-tech typewriter, and there's no separation of content from presentation. A template idea means nothing (which is a human problem).
- Although there is auto-numbering for questions/pages/etc., I haven't found a way to automatically number the various question types, e.g., essay questions, multiple-choice questions along with the answers to questions, keeping them all on the same page, etc. Again, the result winds up being some hacked-up typewritten solution where one must manually re-start numbering at the proper place, etc. Moving or adding a question or answer is disruptive. I'm sure there's a clean way to do this, but I've never had the time to grok it or found the
.dotxfile that made it easy in Word. Customizing lists is a nightmare in Word (it has to be done with care or the numbering is all wrong). Surely someone has solved this problem for exams!
- Exams are manually graded, so it's very useful to have grader zones to keep track of points when marking. The solution is to make a Word table on the cover page (or the last page) and update it for each question and its value. Again, it's a failure (to me) that in 2015 we must update these tables manually when the points/question or order of questions change. We're basically using Word as a typewriter despite the power of Microsoft. I tried in the past (2005?) to use Word variables for the point-values in questions, but short of writing a macro in VB, I wasn't able to generate a grading table automatically.
So, along comes a graduate teaching assistant who points me to the exam class in LaTeX. Awesome! It solves all of the above problems! Except, it's a LaTeX environment, and that's going to cause problems with the non-technical part of our exam workflow. Getting the secretaries (or technicians) to 1) install the proper LaTeX environment on their machines or 2) to learn to use typesetting language is going to be a barrier for several reasons. What's more, I'm pretty sure I'll get stuck maintaining the cover page for the entire university in LaTeX if I convinced them to go down that road (the post-doc who created the LaTeX style for a PhD thesis here got stuck with supporting it).
Even the more use-friendly LyX is too much, because of the complex installation in Windows. The Exam layout for LyX is far from easy to use (there are a lot of embedded LaTeX commands still necessary).
But the exam class in LaTeX is awesome -- here are just a couple of examples:
I started using Word in 1984 with 5 1/4" floppies, before a mouse was needed (it was optional). I remember thinking how cool the idea of paragraph styles was... They have existed since then. But where is the Word equivalent of the Exam class from LaTeX? Did it die when Framemaker was bought by Adobe in the 1990s?
What powerful exam template do you use that's secretary-friendly?