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Respondus 3.0 FAQs for Calculated Questions

Multiple choice questions may win the popularity contest, but “calculated questions” are probably the most powerful question types available for online assessments.

The WebCT platform has offered calculated questions for many years. The Blackboard Learning System added support for calculated questions with Release 6.3. Regardless of the platform, Respondus 3.0 allows faculty to create calculated questions using a streamlined interface. The questions can then be published directly to an online course.

We are seeing increased use of calculated questions by faculty, so we thought a FAQ session might be in order.

What are calculated questions?

Calculated questions require students to apply a mathematical formula to answer the question. Here is a classic example of a simple calculated question:

If a train travels {x} kilometers per hour for {y} hours, how far will it go?

In this question “x” and “y” are variables and the formula for solving the question is simple: x * y (x times y). More complicated calculated questions can be developed using a variety of functions, operators and constants.

With calculated questions, students are presented with different values for the variables in the question, thus requiring each student to provide a unique answer. While this is a good way to discourage cheating, it also makes it possible for an instructor to create a practice test that can be taken multiple times by students. Each practice test will display different values for the calculated questions.

Calculated questions are most often used in math and science courses, but other disciplines use them as well such as nursing (dosage rates for medicine), business (interest rate calculations), and agriculture (yield per acre/hectare). Virtually any question that uses a formula can be turned into a calculated question.

The best way to learn how to create a calculated question using Respondus 3.0 is to review the online help or the Respondus User Guide.

Can calculated questions created for WebCT be used in Blackboard (and vice versa)?

At present, the math engine and storage formats for calculated questions in WebCT and Blackboard are different. However, Respondus 3.0 has a powerful conversion tool that makes the two formats interoperable. What does that mean? It means that if an instructor creates a calculated question in Respondus 3.0 it can be published to either a WebCT course or a Blackboard course. It also means that a calculated question that already exists in, say, a WebCT course can be “retrieved” (ie. downloaded) with Respondus 3.0 and then later published to a Blackboard course. Best of all, Respondus 3.0 makes the conversion process for calculated questions seamless from a user’s standpoint.

Education publishers are also able take advantage of these interoperability capabilities in Respondus. Publishers had previously steered away from providing calculated questions in question banks because e-learning platforms used different methods to create and store such questions. Today, publishers are able to create calculated questions in Respondus that are usable with multiple course management systems. The cost-savings for publishers is tremendous. Instructors also benefit because they don’t have to deliver assessments outside of their preferred e-learning platform in order to use algorithmic-styled questions.

Can calculated questions created in Respondus be used with systems other than WebCT and Blackboard?

Respondus 3.0 includes separate user interfaces for eCollege, ANGEL, and IMS QTI. Each of these three interfaces includes an “Algorithmic” question type that has the same underlying engine as that used for WebCT/Blackboard calculated questions. However, the question display within eCollege, ANGEL and QTI systems is entirely different. The main difference is that a Flash (.swf) file is used to display and grade the calculated question. (The Respondus online help and user Guide provides a detailed overview of this feature. Also see this related article: “Calculated and Algorithmic Questions with Respondus 3.0”).

Can Calculated Questions be printed or saved to MS Word format?

When Respondus saves an exam containing calculated questions to MS Word format, it will randomly pick one set of variables for the calculated question. A similar approach is used when calculated questions are printed from Respondus. (If answer keys are printed or saved to MS Word format, the answers will correspond to the values selected for the variables.)

Note that the “Print Options” tab in Respondus has a “Randomize Question Order” feature. Up to five variations of the exam can be printed by the instructor. For each exam variation, a unique set of values for variables will be selected for each calculated question. So if you print multiple variants of the exam, the calculated questions in each variant will have different values for the variables.


Related Articles
Calculated and Algorithmic Questions with Respondus 3.0

Source: Respondus, Inc. (
Originally Published: November 15, 2005

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