Best practices: Creating calculated questions for Math and Science courses

Last week Rebecca DeSantis provided tips for creating Quiz questions in Moodle™. Today I am going to talk about Quiz but will focus on calculated questions and the best practices for using them in your math and science courses. Moodle™ has a powerful quiz engine with a variety of question types which are stored in a question bank and can be re-used within and between courses. Multiple Choice True/False and Matching are definitely the most popular question types; however if you teach math or science you’ll want to spend some time exploring the calculated question types as well. These question types offer teachers a way to use wild cards (variables) that can be substituted by random values inside a quiz question.

Calculated questions are fun because they allow students to enter the results and the system provides them with instant feedback. Teachers set the formulas and parameters for these questions. To create a calculated question you just need to create a formula and adjust the range values of the wild cards. Then students will be able to see the same question with different numerical values. It also supports the creation of questions with units in the answers allowing teachers to create problems to promote the appropriate application of scientific units. It is even possible to use calculated questions in the creation of multiple-choice alternatives that change according to formulas and the selections available in the wild cards.

There are many creative ways to use calculated questions in your courses. However the process to create those types of questions is not trivial. Here are six best practices that will help you master calculated questions in Moodle™.

1. Start simple

Resist the temptation of using complicated formulas. Instead start simple by creating a Calculated simple question type with simple operations and a couple of wild cards. This exercise will help you understand how the mechanism works and it will give you confidence to create more elaborate and complicated formulas in the future.

2. Select wild cards appropriately

Wild cards are variables replaced by a pre-defined set of values. These variables are created by placing letters between braces inside the question text or the formula field (e.g. {a} {X} {height}). When setting the parameters to generate the values in each one of the wild cards pay attention to the number of decimal places. It will be easier if you match the number of decimals present in the range of values with the drop-down menu.

3. Make sure you use the correct formula syntax

A common mistake teachers make is to add an equal sign before entering the formula; this is not necessary in Moodle™. Make sure you write the desired formula syntax. In general you will write formulas in Moodle™ as if you are typing on a scientific calculator. You can use the four basic operations parentheses brackets and functions. Click here to learn more about formula syntax.

4. Use the same wild cards in multiple questions

Moodle™ allows you to use the same datasets of wild cards in multiple questions. You can even synchronize the data so that you use all datasets of {x} consistently among a collection of questions. If you decide to use the same wild cards across questions then I recommend synchronizing and displaying the shared datasets name as the prefix of the question name. This will give you a visual reference of the wild cards in use within a Quiz.

5. Change the order of operation and/or signs to produce new questions using the same wild card

You can easily create new questions or multiple-choice alternatives just by changing the signs and the order of operations among the wild cards. The same wild cards can provide you several types of questions or alternatives. Here is an example:

  • {a}-{b}*{c}
  • {a}+{b}*{c}
  • {a}*{b}*{c}
  • {a}*{b}-{c}

6. Create a practice drill by making copies of the same question an adding them into the same quiz

You can copy the same question multiple times and place all the copies inside the same quiz. In this case you do not want the wild cards to be synchronized; you actually have to generate new private sets of wild card values for each copied question. This will allow you to create a quiz in which students respond to the same question with different numbers. It is a perfect type of quiz to use as a drill or for warm-up exercises. These are just a few tips to improve your quizzes and make your courses in Moodle™ more interesting and dynamic. I hope you are now excited to start using calculated question.


~Marcelo Mendes



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