Written exam

Exams are usually 2-3 hours long and involve students answering questions to test their understanding. They can include long written essay answers, short text answers, problems or multiple choice questions.

Exams can be time- and resource-efficient, especially when assessing large cohorts of students. However, there is the risk that they promote ‘surface-level learning’ where students revise intensively for the exam but don’t retain or understand the concepts in the longer term.

Exam questions should be written and thoroughly checked by more than one person to avoid any errors or ambiguity of language. Make sure that module learning outcomes are represented in the exam. Past papers can be useful in helping students to prepare: and could be discussed in class, as well as made available to students via Blackboard.

Workload guide

Preparation time Low Student workload High Marking time Medium

Literacies and skills exhibited

  • Developing arguments, reflecting, evaluating and assessing
  • Recalling, describing and recounting information
  • Being self-directed, managing time
  • Written and non-verbal communication
  • Organising, reviewing and paraphrasing information


  • Open book / seen exams (inside or outside the formal exam period)
  • Electronic exams (via Blackboard)


Marking time is dependent on the type of question, and the number of papers. MCQ or short answer questions are relatively quick to mark; whereas long answer or essay questions are subject to the same problems as essays. Feedback, however, can be less onerous if provided in one of the forms described below.


A number of models for providing exam feedback have been trialled at the University in recent years. These include:

  • Opening a room containing all exam scripts for a fixed time period, facilitated by a tutor.
  • Holding optional group feedback meetings after the exam period or (more successfully) at the start of the following term, to work through common mistakes and discuss model answers.
  • Making personal or module tutors available for 1:1 consultations after the exams (although there has been very little takeup of this where trialled).

Case studies

Building student confidence in essay-based exams. Psychology, University of Leicester (Word document)

Further reading

Manchester Metropolitan University Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching


Guide to time involved in preparation, marking, and student workload:  Low Low  Medium Medium  High High

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