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Formula questions: A versatile evaluation tool for generating differentiated questions

Chng Tat Loon, National University of Singapore.

In this post, Chng Tat Loon describes how he uses formula questions in Canvas to randomly assign different numerical values so as to generate differentiated quizzes for his students. Tat Loon is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Design and Engineering at the National University of Singapore.

As a lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering department within the College of Design and Engineering, like many of my other colleagues, I rely heavily on using mathematical formulae to convey both fundamental and complex ideas to my students in a rigorous way.  More often than not, greater emphasis is placed on an ability to apply these formulae and their underlying concepts appropriately, rather than arriving at the correct answer.

In this regard, the ‘Formula Question’ quiz option in Canvas is a useful tool for evaluating students’ ability to grasp concepts through the application of relevant mathematical equations.  It essentially allows the instructor to set a mathematical question with randomly generated numerical values assigned to each student.  If necessary, these random values can be further constrained by various parameters to ensure that the final answers are both physical and realistic.  The end result: each student has his/her own unique question, and answer.

Here is an example:

Personally, I find several pedagogical benefits associated with this option that are worth sharing.


‘Formula Questions’ work equally well for both collaborative and non-collaborative type of assignments.  For instance, if the goal is to encourage students to discuss with each other, such questions still facilitate and reinforce learning, since each student gets a different answer, and is therefore motivated to (eventually) work on his/her own task.  On the other hand, if the lecturer wishes to discourage over-collaboration or copying, having differentiated questions could be deemed as a more impartial approach compared with setting entirely different questions for each student.


A large number of random values (up to 200) can be generated and tailored for a particular class size.  For example, I had a class of 82 students, and I was able to generate 82 different sets of values with just a few mouse clicks.

Automated Grading

A common bugbear of even the most passionate teacher is the monotonous act of grading assignments.  Since ‘Formula Questions’ are embedded within the Quiz option within Canvas, one can simply harness technology in an effective way, and have these questions automatically graded.  This leaves us with more time to perform other useful tasks… like thinking of new ‘Formula Questions’.

I strongly recommend that everyone explore the ‘Formula Questions’ option.  With proper thought and execution, I certainly believe that it’s another instrument worth adding to our pedagogical toolkit.

Further References

How do I create a Formula question in New Quizzes?

How do I create a Formula quiz question with a single variable?

How do I create a Simple Formula quiz question?

Advanced Quiz Techniques (The University of Adelaide)