How to Dress Up an Exam Like a Puzzle

By far the most creative thing I did this year was the final exam I created for my leadership class–a cross between a virtual scavenger hunt/escape room and a test.  

I had done a lot of research into digital puzzles and creating escape rooms while helping a colleague earlier in the year, and although I thought all the puzzles/activities we found online were a lot of fun, they lacked the rigor I sought.  I don’t need to know whether or not my students can figure out a code–I want to see their thinking, especially on my final exam.  Here’s how I successfully disguised a test as a puzzle (click on the image to see the actual website):  

In short, the exam consisted of a Google Site that included an introductory scenario and a map of our school. I used Google Drawings to create the map and add the images that became links to the puzzles.

Then, instead of embedding the answer form on the site as most of the “how-to” blogs/videos suggest, I kept my Google Form (set up as a quiz) completely separate, with the link to the site included in a description at the top of the form. At the time of the exam, students logged into Google Classroom, opened the form, linked to the website and began the activity. When they were done, I was able to evaluate the written responses and then import the grades directly into Google Classroom.

I used Sections and the Response Validation feature of Google Forms to ensure that students could not move forward without solving the puzzles, but before moving on to the next section, they had to respond to the writing prompt/test question.  This is what the teacher-view of the form looked like:

You can click here to see the form as the students did.  The answers are here.  

I allowed the students to work in teams to solve the puzzles–giving them a chance to review the important concepts we covered during the year in a non-threatening manner.  The written responses, though, showed their own thinking and held them individually accountable for processing and applying the content we learned.  

Overall, I was very happy with the exam–and so were the kids–but, as with everything I teach, I always learn from the experience.  There are definitely things I would change:

  • Even for a final exam, it was a little too long.  I got a little carried away with trying to match activities to places on campus.  In the future, I’d use fewer puzzles/activities in each assessment and just incorporate more of these assessments in my course. 
  • I spent a lot of time and too much thought developing the scenario.  The kids hardly noticed!  They just jumped right in and did not even notice the holes in my story that bothered me so much.  The lesson here?  Don’t sweat the small stuff!  
  • Morse code should be used for shorter activities–the 18 question vocab matching exercise took way longer than it should have, not because they didn’t know the vocab, but because the translation to Morse Code took too much time!  
  • And a word of caution:  two students accidentally closed the Google Form tab while in the middle of the exam; Google Forms don’t save work in progress, so both students had to go back and re-do the work they had already completed.  I gave them the codes up to the point where their teams were, but they still had to rush through their written responses. 

As we transition back into regular in-person classes full time next fall, this is definitely one of the digital experiences I’ll continue to refine and incorporate when possible.  Please post comments below if you have questions about the creation of the exam/site/form!

This is the first post in my “Free Lemonade” series, reflecting upon the things I learned and the things I taught during this lemon of a school year. Follow my blog for more ideas and inspiration, from my classroom to yours!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *