Where is “challenging” on the scale between “too easy” and “impossibly hard”

by hamiltonmj1983

I just finished writing the second exam for my Intro to the Old Testament class. I’m still getting the hang of writing tests, and teaching in general. My students have commented on the difficulty of my tests, and I am worried! I feel as though my tests are fair, possibly even too easy. Yet students are simply not making the grades.

On the first test of the semester the grades were spread out very equally. About 1/6 of the class earned an A, 1/6 a B, 1/6 a C, 1/6 a D, and about 1/3 of the class earned an F. I offered a substantial amount of extra credit opportunities (I offered 19 points of possible extra credit on a 100 point test). One student earned 14 points, and nobody else earned more than 5, simply because no one attempted the extra credit (9 points were extra questions on the exam, and 10 points were extra assignments that the students could have done outside of class). I cannot feel bad for these students when they complain that the tests are too hard.

How does one know when they are challenging the students, or making it too easy or too hard? I want everyone to make an A, if they earn it. That never, NEVER happens. I would be happy if everyone would make a C or higher, but that rarely happens. I’m just frustrated and curious what you all think! What makes a test “challenging,” compared to “too easy” or “too hard?”

Thanks for your input!