I am teaching Mathematics for undergraduate students at social sciences. I have two choices. I can publish all old exams with their solutions on my personal weblog or preventing students from obtaining them with tied control over students during making exam.

When old exams would be published my students may be familiar with my question style and may be succeed there. In contrast, when them be public, students may concentrate on questions only and forget learning of all mathematics. Also when exams be published old students may feel bad because of their bad chance that hadn't old exams texts.

For effective teaching and motivation of students, is it good idea that old exams be published by me or not? Shall I publish exam answer keys too? may publishing answers cause memorization instead of learning?

  • $\begingroup$ I publish old exams and keys often. It's useful to my students and it's useful to other instructors sometimes. If you think about who it's useful to verses who it hurts then I think you can see the community you serve by doing such is the correct one to target. $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2015 at 0:07

1 Answer 1


It is key to remember the purpose of the assessment. I presume this is an end-of-course summative assessment. You are therefore trying to find out to what extent they have learned the material you have taught which may be required for further study or employment. You don't want them to study all of mathematics, you want them to study the specific topics that you have taught, and become proficient at the achievement objectives of the course. If old exams were valid, ie. they covered the achievement objectives, studying the old exams will further that aim.

In contrast, a formative assessment, which you could use to guide your teaching, could validly assess the general mathematical competence of your students. However this should be done near the beginning of the course, not the end. It is not the test that shows up on their report. These are two quite different purposes.

If you want to widen the breadth of topics that will be assessed in a summative assessment, it is best to specifically alert the students to such changes and possibly even give some example questions so that students can give the new topics adequate weighting in their revision. This will be more effective than hiding the previous exams and telling them to study for everything.

As you noted, beyond encouraging study towards the achievement objectives, it can also reduce presentation confusion and exam stress which are both confounding factors for a valid assessment.

As a side note, whether you publish or not, some students will manage to get hold of old exams, which gives them an advantage unrelated to their mathematical ability. Publishing is the only way to level the playing field.


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