I'm in Western Europe doing a Master's degree, and I expected the education quality to be much higher then what I've seen in my previous school which was in the Middle East, but some professors here still do this (taking exam and exercise questions from the internet) and they don't seem to understand the subject very well.

Now how common is this in European and North American universities? Is it even considered an accepted practice?

  • 13
    What's wrong with taking exam and exercise questions from the Internet?
    – JeffE
    Mar 4, 2016 at 12:12
  • 9
    FYI, Europe is a big place, "Europe and North America" is an even bigger one. What's common in Slovenian universities may be totally unheard of in Canadian ones.
    – user9646
    Mar 4, 2016 at 12:19
  • 4
    Making up good questions is time-consuming. Why reinvent the wheel when you don't have to?
    – user37208
    Mar 4, 2016 at 16:05
  • 3
    If your question is: are there universities in western Europe that have low hiring standards for professors, or do not value good teaching when hiring professors, the answer is yes. There are very good and very bad academic institutions in Europe.
    – Cape Code
    Mar 5, 2016 at 11:28
  • 2
    @Tampere100: "come on, in all these years, and all the grey hair, he can't come up with a single original question?" - how do you know they cannot? I mean, come on, in all these years, and all the grey hair, and they are still not maintaining their custom slide template or providing their own "standard" books for each lecture they teach? A part of their experience consists in knowing when to reuse existing things and thereby save one"s time for other activities, and how to integrate one's own knowledge with someone else's way of presenting related knowledge. Mar 5, 2016 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


they don't seem to understand the subject very well. You sound like you are in a level of expertise that you could judge the quality of the lectures. You may then ideally speak to the professor about your allegation they still do this. I am ignoring the regional limitations and considering the question in a general context.

Is it even considered an accepted practice?

Assuming that there are no institutional guidelines that goes against assembling questions from the internet(which you must check if you haven't done already!), from a logical perspective viewing this as a student, the practice is similar to posting questions from the text book or peer reviewed journals. The professor in any case is responsible for the question and its relevance can be questioned with supporting evidence.

From the point of view of a student, you could also do a student peer review about the quality and relevance of the question supported by discussions and critical reasoning. If the result of such an assessment goes against the question, you could then report him/her with proof your views about the practice.

NOTE - This is not limited to internet based questions but also any questions even from the sources you think are authentic.

  • Well, I can't claim to be an expert in the area, but I arrived at this conclusion based on my experience with him. 1. Throughout the course, there was no original content (previous exam, second exam, and the exercises). 2. He never (literally) had anything in the lecture slides that was not from the book. 3. He rarely says anything during a lecture apart from reading the slides. I asked him a very elementary question about one of the basic topics in the course, and he could not answer it no matter how I tried to state my question; instead he would give me an "answer" to something I didn't ask.
    – Tampere100
    Mar 5, 2016 at 11:08
  • The course is Advanced Algorithms and Data Structures, and he is "specialized" in the area of mathematics and theoretical computer science, for which this course forms the basis of many of the topics in these areas. Most importantly, at the beginning of the course, he explicitly said that he will not use questions from the book (which he did) on the exam because "those questions have already been answered since it's the most widely used book for this course."
    – Tampere100
    Mar 5, 2016 at 11:08
  • 4
    Well, many of us work very hard to come up with obscure questions which are not widely known, but it is very hard to be original. Good coursework/exam questions (which should be expressive, but not impossible) are difficult and time-consuming to formulate. Once I found that a question which I formulated was popular on the internet, and had to completely redesign the task. I own a trove of obscure quizzes which I use. Our job in teaching is not to be original, but to provide a good learning/assessment regime for the students. In that sense, I believe the OPs question is wrongly posed. Mar 5, 2016 at 12:18
  • @CaptainEmacs Incidentally, I heard a complaint from a CS student in my location recently. The student is taking Algorithms class taught by a supposedly good university professor. The student asked the professor a question: how to devise an algorithm to measure the popularity of a social network user (I don't know the details of that question). The professor could not answer the question because he does not use social network at all. If the OP is having that kind of complaint, I can't say he is wrong. The current generation is sometimes ahead of the previous one.
    – Nobody
    Mar 5, 2016 at 12:51
  • @scaaahu Looking down at others just because they happen to focus on different activities, depending on their context, is a disagreeable attitude (not just in students). I have an excellent orientation, but I wouldn't look down at the "current generation" for being unable to navigate without a smart device; they have the right to choose where to invest their priorities. I expect this to work the other way round, too. Did your student talk to the prof? Did the prof perhaps ask him to formulate his question in a more general, abstract context? The prof needs to get a chance to have a stab at it. Mar 5, 2016 at 14:34

You get questions (and ideas for questions) from many places. Some you cook up yourself, others you water down from a step in a paper (even a very old one), or filch from a published exam, or a textbook, or even adapted from StackExchange. It varies. One of the selling points of textbooks is precisely that they provide lots of questions.

You should make up an exam by combining questions that (more or less, probably weighted by importance) evaluate the material covered. In my case of some 5 questions 2 or 3 are self made (probably inspired by previous ones or external sources), while the others come from different sources, often severely modified.

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