How to Write an UnGoogleable Exam Question – Part 2

Google can’t tell you what to think (well I hope not, otherwise the robots have already won)! Forming and expressing your ideas in a way that’s clear, concise and accurate is a key skill, and one that cannot be looked up.

Part 1 of this blog series considered integrating knowledge, spot-the-error style questions and application of knowledge through problem solving. These are all ways of assessing understanding and applying information. But there are even more options for writing ungoogleable questions.

In this post, I share three additional examples of written questions that cannot easily be googled. The trick in this is that I’m asking for opinions and rationale from the students. The information is there, it’s their job to tell me what they think about it.

What do you think?

Googling a term will bring back a range of sources but which is the best and why? A key skill we want our graduates to develop is the ability to evaluate information. With the style of question below, the googling has already been done for them. We then ask the students to read the given text, critiquing, analysing and commenting on the information. Both definitions are good but neither is complete. To express this, the students need to draw on core knowledge and set out their arguments.

LO1: To be able to critically evaluate definitions for accuracy, clarity and depth.

Example Question 1: Both statements below have been pulled from internet sources by searching the term “Proteomics“. Compare the two sets of information and state, with reasoning, which of the two gives the most complete definition of Proteomics.

Definition 1 Proteomics is the large-scale study of proteins. Proteins are vital parts of living organisms, with many functions. The proteome is the entire set of proteins produced or modified by an organism or system. Proteomics enables the identification of ever-increasing numbers of proteins.  Proteomics generally refers to the large-scale experimental analysis of proteins and proteomes, but often refers specifically to protein purification and mass spectrometry.


Definition 2 Proteomics is a fast and powerful discipline aimed at the study of the whole proteome or the sum of all proteins from an organism, tissue, cell or biofluid, or a subfraction thereof, resulting in an information-rich landscape of expressed proteins and their modulations under specific conditions. Most proteomic discoveries and efforts to date have been mainly directed towards the areas of cancer research, drug and drug target discovery and biomarker research.

Science Direct

Make it simple

If you find information on the internet and want to use it in your work, be honest, would you just paraphrase it? What’s even more scary from an assessor’s point of view is that there are web scripts that’ll do this for you. So let’s flip that problem on its head and make the rewriting of the information the assessment.

Students often struggle with the complex language used in research outputs. Typically, papers are written by experts for other experts to read. However, having the understanding and vocabulary to get the most out of research papers and other outputs is important.

Furthermore, being able to explain something simply shows you truly understand it. From an employability stance, interaction with the public and communication of research is a key skill, with many grant applications and media outlets asking for descriptions for a lay audience. Just consider the variety of ways the COVID-19 vaccine has been explained to different audiences.

In this example, a paper or abstract is given to the students and they’re required to write the lay description of the work. In order to do this, they need a good understanding of the subject area as well as their target audience.

LO2: Students will be able to explain complex information in a manner accessible to non-specialists.

Example Question 2: The paper by Flint et al describes how MALDI imaging has been used to study a cancer tumour model. Read the abstract to this paper and write a lay description suitable for a target audience with a basic understanding of biology.

Assessment criteria:

Pass – Scientifically correct, but not easily readable for the target audience. Some complex or meaningless terms used. Structure leads from point to point but may be presented in the passive voice.  Aims and objectives are adequately described, may not be understandable by the general public. 

Distinction – Content is scientifically correct and written in an easily readable style for the target audience. Avoids complex or meaningless terms and phrases. Text is logical, flows and is presented in the active voice. Aims and objectives are clear and understandable by the general public.

Draw and process information from multiple topics

It’s always good to listen to your students and hear what they’re telling you. We can come up with (in our opinion) the best question ever, but they’re the ones who need to answer it.

“What I found the most rewarding, and unable to Google, were questions which required short paragraph-long answers that drew on 3/4 different topics at once.”

Former Student

This quote was sent to me in response to Part 1 of this blog series and came from a former student who’s experienced online exams. These questions – which draw from several different areas or topics – need to be designed in such a way that the information is related and integrated together, with students processing all of it to create their answers.

However, the key is that the information contained in the questions and required for the answer has to come from more than one teaching session or even module. Core knowledge from a range of sources will need to be synthesised and integrated together, backing up the judgments made. This is also an opinion question in that each of the presented options would in theory work or be appropriate. What I’m looking for is, given the situation, why the option chosen is the best.

LO3: Students will be able to describe and apply core knowledge.

Example Question 3: Gene editing, expression from plasmid vectors or direct transfection are all methods in which to introduce a novel proteins into a cell. In the following situation, explain which of these or other methods you would use and why you consider it to be the most appropriate for the scenario.

(a) David would like to study the effect of removing a histidine from the metal binding site in a protein. The expression of this protein is controlled post transcriptionally by an iron response element within the mRNA.

(b) Sue wishes to determine the cellular location of her protein within living cells. The location of this protein is thought to differ under stress conditions.


Education can change the world. But education is more than teaching students to find information. Google can do that for any of us in a fraction of a second.

The world has changed and the days of “sit down and write everything you can recall” exams are over. We need to adapt and find different ways to do assessments. We want students to be able to use information, to express their own opinions and ideas clearly, accurately and based on evidence. To do this, they will need to really understand their subject area, to be able to search for and find relevant information, to critique the vast amount of knowledge presented to them, and then to come up with the best answers to the world’s complex problems.

I hope these two posts have provided useful ideas to get you started on creating ungoogleable assessments that develop students in these ways. Please feel free to share any additional ideas you have by email, in the comments or on social.

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2 thoughts on “How to Write an UnGoogleable Exam Question – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Weekly Resource Roundup – 23/11/2022 |

  2. Pingback: Crynodeb Wythnosol o Adnoddau – 23/11/2022 |

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