Friday, January 21, 2011

Example of a Paperless Final Exam

by Shelly Blake-Plock

A few readers have asked me to post an example of what an exam might look like in a paperless classroom. Here's a copy of the Human Geography exam my 1:1 freshmen are taking right now; I'm assessing them on their ability to extend the skills and content we learned in class into real-world problems (I think that's a good way to go about it). FYI, they've got 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete the exam (though I generally always give extra time if requested).

This exam will test not your ability to memorize information, but your ability to actually become a researcher in human geography. Work swiftly but accurately and pay attention to the directions. All work should be posted on your blog (one blog post per question). Please write the honor pledge at the bottom of your exam.

1. 1) Explain the sudden dip on the following graph. 2) Explain how statistics can help to elucidate/explain the significance of historical events. Give a specific example such as any we discussed in class.

2. Using Google Maps Street View at please answer the following questions: 1) What color is the car parked in front of 30 Vesey St.? 2) What time was is when the Google pics were taken (hint... explore down Vesey St.). 3) What is the name of the chapel that sits in front of the WTC site? 4) How many people on the top deck of Broadway Gray Line Bus 71512 (standing in front of the AT&T store) are wearing sunglasses?

3. According to today's issue of what is the most unfriendly city in the USA? (Please give the name of the city and the url of the article).

4. Why are there so many names for "soda pop" in New Mexico?

5. Find Sudanese 'Lost Boy' John Dau's Twitter feed and send him a Tweet congratulating him on the South Sudan vote. Cite this BBC article in your Tweet by using the URL shortener. Take a screen shot of your Tweet and post it as a pic on your blog.

6. Read: and answer the following; use the research from NOAA to support your answers. 1) What causes climate change? 2) Is human activity contributing to climate change? 3) Is the climate warming? 4) If global warming is real, why has the East Coast of the USA been hit with massive blizzards the last two years?

7. 1) View and explain what a regional food hub is and why they are essential to sustainable agriculture and food distribution. 2) Go to and explain where you would find USDA approved organic poultry, beef, and vegetables closest to John Carroll. 3) Write a proposal for the JC cafeteria for a "JC Sustainable Food Day"; plan out where they could acquire organic foods and how they (and you) could help educate the school community on the issue of sustainable agriculture.

8. Choose a country that begins with either the second or fourth letter in your first name from and create a Google Presentation comparing that country to the USA. Supplement your presentation with resources, data, and pictures from CIA World FactbookWikimedia CommonsBBC NewsNY TimesNational Geographic, and PRI's The World (at least one citation from each of those sources).

9. France will chair the G-20 this year. Please read and explain the French president's position on fighting terrorism and whether he thinks the US is an ally or not.

10. Go to and read FAQ #6. Out of the nine topics mentioned, which in your opinion are the three most important. 1) Briefly explain why you think these are the most important three. 2) Find two significant web resources for further study of each of the three (total six web resources). Your sources must be of high quality and meet our class requirements for a serious source; furthermore, you are finding two sources for each so that the sources can aid in vetting one another's accuracy.

11. Go to CIA World Factbook; choose a country under 'East and Southeast Asia'. Then open a new 'My Map' in Google Maps and complete the following: 1) Find the three largest cities in your chosen country; pin the cities and give details for population in the description box of each. 2) Estimate the geographical area of the largest city in your country as compared to the geographical area of Bel Air, MD (i.e. Beijing is ___ approximately ____ times larger in geographical area than Bel Air, MD. 3) Bring up the traffic map and explain whether the traffic in your city is better or worse on average at this time of day than the traffic in New York City. All of your answers go in the description box. Please make sure to 'share' the map with me and post the link on your blog.

12. What does the following gapminder graph tell us about the relationship between health expenditures and global health?

13. Using the data from this gapminder graph and encyclopedic information from Wikipedia, explain the following: 1) Why is the UK in the lead in the beginning? 2) Why does the USA surpass the UK when it does? 3) Why the drop in CO2 production around 1929? 4) When does China enter the picture? 5) Despite the fact that there are far more people in China than in the USA, the data shows that the US population consumes much more CO2 -- why? 6) Explain Trinidad and Tobago in the 1940s. 7) Explain Luxembourg. 8) Explain all of the tiny countries near the top.

14. With a partner, write up a 10-step plan of ways that our school could use technology to live up to its stated mission of preparing young men and women "to serve responsibly in shaping a more just and compassionate global society"


  1. This is fantastic. Thank you SO much for sharing.

  2. Any one of these tasks is a rich information-literacy task. Sure they're all geography connected, but many others could learn from your examples... even if they still cling to paper for recording the results.

  3. I would love to see the rubric for grading this. Do you give the rubric up front (before the exam)? I really like the thought and level of application in mind that these are created with. Nice!

  4. I'd say that this kind of exam would take a lot longer than the typical hour and a half assigned to an exam. How much time would you expect this assessment to take your students?

  5. @David

    Two hours and 15 minutes + extended time if requested.


    I don't use rubrics. I find they tend to make kids think of what they are doing as "filling in a checklist". We talk in advance of something like this and come to agree on expectations; students are welcome to talk to me about ideas they have during the exam as well.


  6. Thank you so much for sharing. We are a 1:1 school in Nebraska, but some teachers still struggle with the transition to facilitator and data management. This is a great example...your students are lucky to have such a forward-thinking teacher working with them.

  7. This is great! I love the idea. Need to start thinking about how I could do this in algebra. :)

  8. This is a great example of just-in-time learning - they are learning IN the exam itself! And there is no need to study. I'm struggling with why Q5 is a geography question though. :)

  9. Some of the questions looked like trivia questions (the Google map ones), while others were PhD theses ("why has the East Coast of the USA been hit with massive blizzards the last two years?").

    I would have a very difficult time trying to figure out how much detail to put in on each question and fitting it all in the allotted time.

    The questions themselves are good, but not for a timed exam.

  10. @Stu

    We studied the plight of the Lost Boys of Sudan during our unit on forced migration. The kids really connected with John Dau and so on their final assessment, I wanted to give them something that reminded them of that emotion -- sort of a pep talk within an exam. At the same time, on a practical skills level it is very important to me that they understand how twitter works and that they do have the ability to contact and connect with people outside of the classroom. Understanding the ability to connect seems to me to be a necessary digital literacy (and one which many of us connected professionals can take for granted).


    Yes, without the context of what we've done all semester I could see how it might look like that. I plan to write out a more detailed explanation of why each question was posed the way it was and how the students did with them. Look for that next week.

    Thanks everybody for the comments!


  11. I would love it if you would share some of the responses to question 14.


  12. While I like some of the questions, they seem disconnected to me. Why not have students begin with their own inquiry question, use the tools, defend why they used those specific tools and create something (blog post, podcast, etc.) that synthesizes the sources and allows them to develop their own opinions on the subject.

  13. @John

    re: disconnection. Yup. I know. I'm planning on writing a post to put this into context. One thing I have noticed though, is -- to an extent -- the more disconnected an assessment feels to folks who didn't participate in the class, the more likely the gist of the learning that occurred in the class is beyond the ordinary scope of what is "expected". Although sometimes the person writing the exam just sucks (haha).

    As for the second part of the question, that's sort of what we did all semester and this assessment was really geared towards evaluating skill sets on one hand -- like navigating in an unfamiliar 3D geography -- to applying analysis to open questions remaining from class discussion.

    Again, all a matter of context.


  14. This is really nice and shows how we need to shift from fact gatherers to knowledge users.

  15. How old are your students (I'm sorry I'm not really sure what a freshman is)?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.