Sunday 9 September 2012

Online Quizzes Built on

If you're a Facebook friend of mine, over the last few weeks you'll have seen status updates regarding an online quiz app that I've been working on.  I started off calling it an online testing system, but decided against that as it had too many connotations of an app that allowed unit tests to be executed!

My original idea for the app was to use it to determine individual's readiness for Salesforce certification exams and crowdsource the questions as a free for all. However, I'm rethinking how the questions will be authored based on the various compromises of real questions that have taken place this year.  I'm still planning to allow the community access to author questions, but in a more controlled fashion and limiting the number of questions an individual can write on a single topic.

A screenshot of a question is shown below :

One of the key aspects for me is the ability for candidates to give a percentage rating to their confidence in the answer.  This is based on my approach to taking the real exams, as it allows me to determine how close I think I am to the pass mark.  I find it particularly useful when assessing a candidate's readiness, as if they are getting questions wrong when they were 100% confident in their answer, that implies there is a fundamental lack of understanding in that particular concept.  There's also a couple of free text areas for candidate notes and feedback on each question.

Each question is marked with a topic, which identifies which test it belongs to, and an area which is simply a free text sub-topic - Workflow is an area under the topic for example. The areas are used to provide feedback to candidates about areas they are weak on - at the moment its simply the first five unique areas encountered when marking.  I do plan to make this more sophisticated, taking into account the candidate's confidence and the number of incorrect answer in each area, for example

Something that applies both to tests and surveys (and many other question and answer scenarios) is the requirement to decouple the questions from those presented in a test instance. For example, if a questions is worded incorrectly and I fix it, I don't want to retrospectively update that question as posed to a particular candidate, as its not the question they answered. The trick here is to have the concept of questions as templates, and clone these when creating a test instance. Mine are called question responses, and that is where things like the feedback live.

Questions can be single answer (radio button), multi-answer (checkboxes), putting answers in order (picklists) or free text (long text area). The first three are automatically marked when the test is submitted, while free text requires a human to review the text.

As I want to be able to have (at least) users and contacts as test candidates, I couldn't use master-detail relationships and standard roll up summary fields. Instead I used this excellent utility from Anthony Victorio that allows roll up summary behaviour via regular lookup fields. It only takes a few minutes to set up and has worked fine for me thus far. The only trick is to remember to "touch" all the child objects when you add a new parent summary field.

The app is built on sites using composition templates.  The design is from Free CSS Templates - a great resource if, like me, design isn't your strong suit.

At the moment there's just a single test on Dreamforce X to allow me to test the site out in a controlled fashion.  So give it a go and let me know what you think.  If you would be interested in writing or marking questions, please tick the boxes on the test signup form.  On the results page there's a link to tweet out the score - don't feel any pressure to do this, but if you do want to that would be cool.

You can access the site at: