Exit Examinations

An exit examination tests students at the end of their program of study (such as seniors) for attainment of the program's learning outcomes. Exit exams cover one or more program-level outcomes, not course-level outcomes.

Design and Implementation Issues

Student resistance
Student resistance to exit exams can be strong. Common concerns are:

  • Will I graduate if I fail the exam?
  • Will my score on the exam appear on my transcript or affect my grade-point-average?
  • I'm already taking a full course load and interviewing for permanent employment. I don't have time to study and take the exam!

Time commitments
Time commitments for exit exams can be substantial. A comprehensive exit exam may require students to spend 3-8 hours simply taking the exam. Writing an exit exam is a major undertaking for faculty, who may need to coordinate on the design, development, administration, and scoring of the exam. It is necessary to rewrite the exam periodically to maintain security. When faculty write an exit examination, it is called a locally-developed exam.

Scheduling the administration of an exit exam is also a challenge. For security reasons, it would be ideal for all exiting students to take the exam simultaneously which is seldom feasible. Unless the exam can be broken into modules that are administered during regularly scheduled class times, substantial efforts are required to schedule students for various administrations of the exam.

Examples of Exit Examinations in Engineering Programs

Standardized exams
Some programs choose to make a trade-off. They use a standardized (or nationally-normed) exam. That means they give up local, customized control over what is covered on the exam in exchange for addressing the issues above (except for student time commitment). A standardized exam in engineering disciplines is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Examination, which is developed and administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveyors (NCEES). The Civil and Geological Engineering Department at New Mexico State University uses the FE examination and has described the issues involved.

Locally-developed exams
Some programs find ways to resolve the issues and implement a locally-developed exit exam. Below are some examples.

Making Scoring/Grading Useful for Assessment

  • General principles for making scoring/grading useful for assessment (rubrics)