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In a typical course (proof-based, for the context of this question) I have about 50 exercises that I might want to use when I teach the course again. Each exercise might be used in the same way as before, or perhaps in a modified form (for difficulty or dependence on course material/pacing). Sometimes, I might even have exercises that are based on old ones, so I must not forget to include the prerequisite exercises earlier if I want to assign the later ones.

What is a good method to keep track of old exercises?

Ideally, a good method should allow one to:

  • easily store exercises to be recycled later (even perhaps in a different course),
  • search for exercises related to a certain topic,
  • search for exercise that make use of a certain technique or idea,
  • keep track of any dependencies,
  • make note of difficulty levels

and perhaps more.

Do you have any methods that have proven effective at addressing these goals, or others? Is there software that would aid such a task?

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  • $\begingroup$ I hope the question is on-topic. In order to make it not too broad, I have specified on proof based classes with about 50 exercises per course. A similar question for courses with a lot of small exercises would be interesting as well. $\endgroup$ – Markus Klein Apr 2 '14 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ I like the question and consider it very much on-topic. I fleshed out the question by adding the list of ideal benefits of such a method, and added the "technology-in-education" tag because (I'm hoping) a great answer to this question will point us to some software to help with this task. $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Apr 2 '14 at 19:19
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I went through my old exams (and homeworks), and extracted the questions (and, where available) the answers to them. As I write in LaTeX, it was mostly copy&paste (some old texts used Latin-1, now UTF-8, or ancient LaTeXisms, those I fixed; also updated notation, and expanded on the answers). The collection I publish as "suggested exercises" (students have all old exams and homeworks, don't kid yourself). I also added some interesting questions and either my own answers or the answers from MSE. Each new exam gets added to the collection, if merited.

It is an invaluable resource at the moment of making up exams and homework, but as the originals are published, each question has to be extensively tweaked for reuse. So it is far from "reusable questions," sadly.

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I have a colleague who TeXed up a whole bunch of questions as \newcommands in one file. This way he can make his homeworks/quizzes/exams by including this source file, and quickly calling the questions. With appropriate naming of the questions, it becomes easy to look back and see what you've used and haven't used already.

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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like a job for \input and not for newcommand, though. $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft Apr 4 '14 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ I'm using the answers package to write the question and the answer to it as a solution environment. This keeps them textually together in the source, while allowing to separate questions and answers when typesetting. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Apr 6 '14 at 2:42
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What about using a spreadsheet, with a column for links to the tasks themselves? Each column of the spreadsheet contains information about each problem you want to store (like a quick description, title, related problems, prerequisite problems, etc...), and you can just use the filter function on a column to limit the list to the problems you want.

You could even put the LaTeX commands for the specific problem into a column of the spreadsheet for future copying and pasting.

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