I am almost painfully aware of the importance of examinations as a way to create emotionally important memory-recall events, and therefore their vital importance in learning itself. Within the examination itself, however, I usually place the questions in an order that optimizes page-layout; I want to give the students enough space, but otherwise use the fewest pages possible.

However, it occurs to me that this may not be optimal. Is there any research (or does anyone have experience) that supports the idea that the order of question on an examination can impact pedagogic efficacy?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I've done the same thing, but then I caution students to read all the questions before they start writing. $\endgroup$
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 0:33

1 Answer 1


Exam question order is known to influence performance via confidence and self-efficacy. Put easy questions at the beginning, hard questions at the end, and group questions together if they pertain to the same topic. Difficulty should be inherent in the question itself rather than in the test taker getting oriented to the topic, question, and answer choices. Example set of recommendation, though the following link pertains to surveying rather than assessment. https://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/quesplac.php

I can't find the reference at the moment, but if I recall the details, a not infrequently cited example is that demographic questions accompanied a common college entrance test. Placing the questions at the end rather than at the beginning eliminated the gender difference previously observed.

  • $\begingroup$ Though it is still missing some sourcing, I'm tempted to accept this answer. I've observed that you write consistently helpful content. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Common sense would seem to indicate the same thing. More common sense would indicate having the order of questions track the order of material as presented in the course, since students are likely to orient their thoughts that way. But the easy -> hard rule is important so that students don't spend their time on hard problems at the start, missing easy points if they run out of time. Another independent idea is to suggest (strongly) that students read the entire exam before attempting any answers. There are multiple reasons for this, including letting the brain work in the background. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 1:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.