We're considering incentivising students to submit questions for the final exam in a large grad class (> 200 students) as we feel like the process of designing a problem and a grading rubric encourages students to study the material to more depth.

Is this commonly done? What are the pros/cons in the literature, or that you can think of with implementing an exam where a few questions are generated by the class? What precautions should we be taking? What should we incentivise?

  • It's an interesting idea, to be sure, but would risk striking the students as a lazy strategy on the part of the instructor(s), even if the questions ended up taking lot of work to compile and streamline. Another thing I'd worry about would be incomplete/inefficient coverage of the class material and/or types of questions. And I'm wondering about the possibility of the students sharing questions and answers among themselves well in advance of the exam. Any of the ones who exchange tips on their own questions in advance would have an advantage over the others.
    – trikeprof
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 5:50
  • Heck, I am running into situations where IT professors are using prefab exams found online for their quizzes/tests. Granted this is Associates level at a community college, but the interesting thing is that the professors doing it are people who have gotten their masters in the past three years or so. I can honestly state that the idea of striking students as lazy is accurate, at least to me. I would assume that someone with a masters or higher would be able to write an exam on their own, and not need to outsource. Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 7:14
  • I'm not going to answer since I'm not familiar with the literature, but I don't think it's a bad idea provided you use it as an opportunity to explain what type of questions you'd like and what purpose those questions have (demonstrate practical vs theoretical, why better to have application of knowledge vs rote memorization, or if rote questions why, etc), and you are prepared to add/delete questions if you have too many/few on certain topics. Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 12:38
  • @trikeprof exactly, that's where the incentives come in. We would like to define "good" questions based on our evaluation of the question, the rubric and the class results, curving the grades... Students will always look for shortcuts, the question is how best can we discourage/use this to our benefit?
    – Jedi
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 14:13
  • 1
    If you do this, the questions should not be used for this class, but for subsequent classes.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 18:45

3 Answers 3


Is this commonly done?

I have no sources to answer this, but in my experience, no, it's not commonly done.

What are the pros/cons [...] that you can think of with implementing an exam where a few questions are generated by the class?

I can see two main issues:

  1. It's not clear to me how you want to handle the communication of the questions and how you plan to use them, but some or, possibly, many students will know the questions in advance before the final exam.
  2. As pointed out by @trikeprof in a comment, students might perceive this as a lazy strategy. Furthermore, they might not like the idea of being assessed on the basis of questions formulated by their peers.

I think that the idea of having students designing questions is good, but those questions shouldn't be directly used in the final exam.

An alternative proposal could be that of assigning the design of a question as homework, with the additional agreement that good questions will be collected in a booklet of questions/exercises, with recognition of the authors.

  • 2
    “some or, possibly, many students will know the questions in advance” In particular, students who are well socially-connected within the class will be at a major advantage. This does not seem fair.
    – PLL
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 14:57

There is the germ of a great idea in your question. Let's take the basic idea and modify it a bit.

Have your students create an exam question, but not necessarily to include in an actual exam, but as a way of measuring mastery of the material.

You could, for example, offer several choices of specific topics that were studied in your course, and ask your students to choose one and design an exam question around that.

Since this is not something students are used to doing, it might be better to do this as a homework assignment than as part of an exam.

(If there are some real humdingers submitted, you could ask the individual students for permission to use their questions in future exams.)

I did not think this up by myself. I heard it on an NPR special program about alternative education.


One obvious reason is that students become more likely to cheat the easier it is to do so. Most imaginable to me is students will form study groups and just one student will submit a question. I don't even know how you would prohibit this if you tried. Then there is a manageable number of possible exam questions, with solutions, floating out.

One obvious problem is this just isn't really the student's job. Designing an exam question is partly about knowing the material very well. It's also based on technical knowledge of what a well-designed, exam-appropriate question looks like. And naturally we have had professors who are terrible at this and it is not an enjoyable experience for any party.

  • The submission of the question itself is graded and is a non-trivial fraction of the overall grade. The quality of the question is evaluated based on a rubric given to the teaching assistants, and also automatically based on the mean, median score distributions. Submitting a question that most others will not be able to get a full score on is thus encouraged.
    – Jedi
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 15:37

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