Social Sundays: Adding variety to assessment

It's getting towards the end of the year and of course, that means lots of assessments.  I try to use a wide variety over the course of year, so by the end of April it's getting a bit more challenging to add a new one. 

Recently, we just completed an assessment that is both a personal favorite and a favorite of students.  I call it "If You Wrote the Test." The concept is simple really - students write the exam and answer key for the unit we are studying. If you can teach it; you understand it.  In this case, the students have to show what they know.  This is one of the best assessments I have used to gauge mastery. 

Here's what I find works:

  1. Give specific guidelines on the events, vocabulary, people etc that you expect to be included.  In some ways this is similar to a review sheet. 
  2. Be clear on the types of questions that need to be included (or should not be included): short answer, fill in the blank, multiple choice, map identities, essay to name a few.
  3. Be specific on length of exam. I found without specifying the link of the exam that students turn in surprisingly short tests or tests that are so long that they would take multiple days to complete 
  4. Don't forget the answer key: Students need to write an answer key. I have students print the exams and write the key long-hand or if it is a digital exam, students make a copy of the slides and fill in the answer key. Either way an answer key is part of their assessment.
  5. A second round of assessment: sometimes I have students take each other's exams (anonymous of course) in a collaborative activity.  I select a few exams and then each group completes one of the exams. I tend to do this for one of three reasons: the exams students wrote on average did not show mastery and extra time with the material is needed; students benefit from seeing how others approached the subject; or for review as we get towards the end of the term. 

This is one of the students favorite assessments.  I have found it to be effective in 8th grade and up or with highly gifted students. 

The big benefits I have found to this kind of assessment:
  • Students are engaged with the  role reversal of being the "teacher."
  • Students examine material in greater depth than when preparing for an exam written by me. 
  • Students write very challenging exams for others. 
  • A greater percentage of students demonstrate mastery than with traditional assessments. 
If you are running out of ideas, give it a shot.  You will be surprised at how challenging an exam your students can write.  

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.  



  1. I did this all the time when I was in the classroom! My students also really enjoyed making up their own tests. As you say, it's really important to be very clear about what types of questions to include and how many questions should be on the tests; if these parameters aren't given, I found that my students tended to flounder a bit because they didn't know where to start. I always had my students take their classmates' tests as another way to review the material and it was also a good way for me to find out what they needed to go over more before the test.