Structuring and formatting examination papers: examiners' views of good practice

AQA is in the process of changing its practices, with plans to implement question banking and auto test construction, while embarking on a large scale project to improve the quality of its papers. As part of this process, Spalding (2009) reviewed the literature surrounding question paper format and structure and found that more research needed to be conducted into what constitutes good practice in structuring question papers. This report acts as an interim stage by establishing the rationale behind current AQA practice for designing question papers, and what AQA examiners consider to be good practice. The examiners’ comments fell into four categories: typesetting, presenting information, the selection of questions to include and question order. Examiners’ views regarding the presentation of information and choosing questions were, in general, consistent with AQA practice and guidance from the research literature. The examiners’ views of good practice only differed from AQA guidance in areas where they had received no training, such as typesetting. The examiners’ views and the advice drawn from the research literature agree that ordering questions easy-to-hard is good practice. Examiners also felt that ordering questions by topic was good practice, although more research is required to determine the effectiveness of this strategy. There are two stages in question paper construction: designing the specimen material and writing papers year on year. This report notes that the latter is constrained by the specimen paper and, therefore, future research would be best directed at specimen paper design. Several areas of good practice were identified, although there are several unknowns chiefly concerning how best to structure question papers. Consequently, two potential research projects were suggested: the ideal specimen paper design for key subjects and the impact of question banking test construction on the good practice outlined in this report.

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