COBOL Programming Exams
The COBOL modules that I have taught at the University of Limerick have
been examined by requiring students to write a single COBOL program. On
this page, a rationale for this type of exam is given, and to give readers
an accurate view of what these exams are like, all the materials for the
"Aromamora Oil File Maintenance and Report" exam are made available
for download. Finally, in the hope that it might prove of interest, I
have included the definition of plagiarism that I append to COBOL programming
Most instructors would agree that the best (only?) way to learn to program is to practice writing programs. But instructors at any institution where students earn a merit based award are caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, the pressure of the assessment system and the demands of other courses are such that unless a significant percentage of the final grade is given for project work, students won't do the projects. On the other hand, whenever graded project work is given, some students will seek to gain an advantage over their fellows by plagiarism. If a significant portion of the final grade is given for project work, plagiarism can materially effect a student's final grade. So the problem that instructors have to solve is this - How can we give project work but ensure that it is not plagiarized or at least that no advantage is gained from plagiarism.
At the University of Limerick, the solution I have adopted is to give significant project work but also to give an exam based on the project work and to tie the final grade to performance in the exam. Students who do not achieve a required minimum in the exam have their project work ignored and are awarded the exam grade for the entire module. For instance, if a student receives an "F" in the exam then he receives "F" for the entire module no matter what grade was awarded for the programming project.
The COBOL exams are designed to ensure that students gain no advantage from plagiarizing their programming projects. In these exams, students are asked to write a single COBOL program. The specification for the program is usually a cut down version of the problem that students have already solved in the programming project.
Some readers may find the exam specifications a little difficult and
be surprised that students could successfully complete the exam in two
and a half hours. But the specification alone does not tell the full story.
Students are already familiar with the problem because the exam is a cut
down version of the programming project. Also, students really only have
to code the Procedure Division because most of the Data Division entries
are given to them in a program outline. In addition, the test data and
the results produced by the program are given to students to help them
to understand what is required by the specification. And a copy of the
COBOL Metalanguage elements is provided so students don't have to remember
the syntax of COBOL commands.
The "Aromamora Oil File Maintenance and Report" exam
All the documentsFor anyone interested I have gathered together all the documents from one exam (except the COBOL Metalanguage elements). These MS-Word documents may be downloaded by clicking on the links below.
Students are often confused as to what constitutes plagiarism and what does not. Obviously it is plagiarism if a student takes a program written by another student an presents it as his own work. But when a class of students have the same programming project there is bound to be some discussion of the problem and of possible solutions to it. Does that discussion constitute plagiarism? Does developing a solution to the problem in a group constitute plagiarism? Is it plagiarism if a student encodes a solution that was developed by someone else? Is it plagiarism if a student takes a subprogram from someone else but develops the main program himself?
As a guide to students, the following statement is usually appended to COBOL programming project specifications.