Using Exam Taker Results to Systematically Grade Essay Responses

April 5, 2018 Jenny Lamberts

When students compose essay responses to open-ended questions, it frequently stimulates higher-order thinking skills such as analyzing and evaluating. Moreover, when students receive feedback on their responses, real learning can occur!

It is not always feasible or practical to create a formative assessment composed of essay-type questions, deliver the assessment to students, and provide feedback in a timely fashion. This becomes even more challenging when there are 100+ students in the course!

However, the tools available in ExamSoft can make this process easier and more systematic. This tutorial will describe a process for using the Exam Taker Results feature to quickly and systematically grade student essay responses in the Legacy Portal. The procedure below uses point-based grading but could easily be applied to rubric-based grading.

Step 1: Write the essay questions.

  • Create and approve one or more essay questions.
  • The key is to create open-ended questions that have responses that can be distilled into one or two key words or phrases.
    • Example question: A 43-year-old man is admitted to the hospital in severe agitation. He is found to have BP of 170/110 mmHg, RR of 35, and sweating. He admits to self-injecting methamphetamine four hours previously. Describe the mechanism by which methamphetamine increases blood pressure.
    • Example response with key words/phrases highlighted: Methamphetamine displaces norepinephrine (NE) from adrenergic nerve terminals. Large quantities of NE accumulate in the synapse and activate adrenergic receptors in the skin, which causes significant vasoconstriction.
  • Responses should be limited to about 250 characters (Exam Taker Results reports can export only 255 characters, including spaces).
  • Enter the correct response into the Rationale box when creating the question.

Step 2: Create the assessment and deliver it to students.

Step 3: Download student responses to an Excel spreadsheet.

  • Navigate to the Exam Taker Results report.
  • Prepare a report that includes Exam Taker Name, Essay Responses, and Score.
  • Click View Report.

  • Download the results as an Excel file by clicking the Excel icon in the top right corner of the report.

Step 4: Grade student responses using Excel column filters.

  • Open the Excel file and turn on filtering.

  • Filter the response column using various combinations of the key words/phrases identified earlier. Each time a response is reviewed, type a point total in the empty points column.
    • First, identify responses that contain all key words by using the And operator. These responses are likely to receive full credit. Multiple variations of each key word might need to be used to identify these responses (e.g., norepinephrine + adrenergic; norepi + adrenergic; NE + adrenergic, etc.).

  • Next, identify responses that contain some key words by using the Or operator. These responses are likely to receive partial credit. Again, multiple variations of each key word might need to be used.
  • As more responses are scored, filtering the points column to identify blank cells will make it easier to grade the remaining responses.
  • Finally, clear the filter from the response column and filter the points column to identify responses that have not yet been scored. These responses are likely to receive minimal or no credit.

Step 5: Enter the scores into ExamSoft.

  • Clear all filters from the Excel spreadsheet and sort the sheet by student name.
  • Input scores into ExamSoft following the standard procedure for Advanced Essay Grading.

Step 6: Release the results to students.

  • Navigate to the Release Exam Taker Results report to release the results of the assessment to students.
  • Ensure that the Rationale setting is selected so that students will be able to review the correct responses. 

ExamSoft makes it easy to create formative assessments and provide feedback to students, even in courses with high enrollment! Though essay grading can be done entirely within the Legacy Portal (visit the instructions for Advanced Essay Grading), this process is a big time saver when it comes to evaluating short-answer responses and hopefully will be helpful to other faculty members who are struggling to incorporate more formative assessment into their teaching!

About the Author

Jenny Lamberts

Jenny Lamberts is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Ferris State University College of Pharmacy in Big Rapids, MI. She has always had a passion for teaching, and she enjoys incorporating new technologies into her instruction to enhance the learning process. As a faculty member, she uses ExamSoft® to assess student learning in the classroom. As an ExamSoft® administrator, she helps both faculty and students utilize the software to its full potential.

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