One of the best ways to prepare students for examinations is to get them to design their own questions using the established format of past exam papers. This helps familiarise them with the demands of the syllabus way which is more focused on the final examination. It is particularly good practice to encourage students to produce the most challenging questions they can imagine (within reason!) so that they are continually stretching themselves to develop their knowledge and understanding of every aspect of the syllabus as appropriate.

Case Study

In the International Baccalaureate syllabus for history, there are only five command terms that can be used (“Compare and Contrast”, “Evaluate”, “Analyse”, “Examine”, “To what extent”). This means that in a subject area like rise and rule of dictators, it is quite straightforward to generate random questions – especially given the fact that the factors to be covered (e.g. social, political, economic) are generic too. On this basis I worked with my students to develop several questions, then generated an online tool which automates the process entirely. I have used it on several occasions since to generate a random question for a timed essay exercise and students then used it during revision season to help them prepare more effectively for the examination.

Taking it further

Formulating the exam questions should really be just the first part of the learning process. These questions can then be swapped around so that different students have to design a mark scheme, complete with indicative content, for a fresh question that they had not considered. Next, the questions could be shuffled around the class again and each student has to provide a response in exam conditions. Then, pairs of students are given two responses to mark – firstly individually, and then comparing their thoughts as part of a moderation system. These results can then be discussed with the class as a whole in order to help fine tune the mark scheme and even write an “examiners’ report” for each question highlighting good practice and common pitfalls. Finally, the entire batch of responses – or at least the better ones – can be shared with the entire cohort as a revision resource.


Russel Tarr, Authoritarian States: question generator – ActiveHistory (Available at: https://www.activehistory.co.uk/Miscellaneous/menus/IB/random_q_generator/)