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Authoring CodeRunner Questions

Author: Richard Lobb, University of Canterbury, New Zealand. 9 January 2017.

This document describes how to write quiz questions using the CodeRunner plug-in for Moodle. It begins with a QuickStart guide for first-time users. The rest of the document is (or will be) a series of sections building from writing simple questions using the built-in question types through to authoring of your own question types to handle your own languages and/or course-specific requirements. The document is targetted primarily at teachers of programming, although CodeRunner can also be used in other contexts in which a computer program has to be run in order to grade a student's textual answer.

This is a work-in-progress. Stay tuned for updates.

A quick-start guide to authoring coderunner questions.

This section shows a first-time user how to write a trivial Python3 function. It assumes that the CodeRunner plugin has already been installed, that the reader has a basic knowledge of Moodle and that they can log in as a teacher in a course.

Carry out the following steps:

  1. Log yourself into a course on Moodle.

  2. Select Question bank from the Course administration menu.

  3. In the main page, click the Create a new question... button.

  4. Select the CodeRunner radiobutton

  5. Click Add.

  6. Fill in the following fields in the question authoring form, leaving all other fields in their initial state (empty, checked or whatever). Fields are specified in top-to-bottom order, skipping irrelevant ones.

    • In the CodeRunner question type panel, dropdown, select python3 as the question type, set the Answer Box Rows field to 6 and Columns to 60.
    • In the General Panel, set the Question name to Python sqr function and set the Question text to "Write a function sqr(n) that returns the square of its parameter n"
    • In the Test cases section, set the first test case to:

      • Test case 1: print(sqr(-3))
      • Expected output: 9
      • Use as example: checked
    • In the Test cases section, set the second test case to:

      • Test case 2: print(sqr(11))
      • Expected output: 121
      • Use as example: checked
    • In the Test cases section, set the third test case to:

      • Test case 3: print(sqr(-4))
      • Expected output: 16
      • Use as example: leave unchecked
    • In the Test cases section, set the fourth test case to:

      • Test case 4: print(sqr(0))
      • Expected output: 0
      • Use as example: leave unchecked
  7. Click Save changes. The new question should now be showing in your question bank highlighted in green.

  8. Click the new question's Preview button

  9. Fill in the answer box with

     def sqr(n):
         return n * n
  10. Click Check

You should now be looking at a page like the following:

Congratulations. You just wrote your first CodeRunner question.

Other things to try:

  1. Try submitting various wrong answers and observe what happens.

  2. Go back to the question editing form and set the last test case to Hidden. Save and resubmit your answer. Observe that the last test case is now shaded green (or red, if your answer is wrong), indicating that this is a hidden test case visible only to staff. Students will not see this line of the table.

  3. Back in the question bank, click the question's Edit icon. In the authoring form, insert a wrong answer into the Answer box. If "Validate on save" is unchecked, click it so it becomes checked. Click Save - observe that the question is not saved because the question doesn't validate. Scroll to inspect the error message just above the question answer. Fix the error in the answer, and click Save again. It should work this time.

  4. Set the Precheck dropdown towards the top of the authoring form to Examples. Save the question. Then Preview it again, as before. Observe the appearance of a Precheck button. Enter a wrong answer and click Precheck. Note that the code is tested only with the tests for which 'Use as example' was checked. Fix your code, click Precheck again, then lastly Check. Note that no penalties were charged for prechecking.

Question authoring using the built-in question types

CodeRunner comes with a set of around 13 built-in question types to handle simple write-a-program or write-a-function question in the most common languages (C, C++, Python, Java, Pascal, PHP and Octave). Although experience suggests that most question authors move fairly rapidly to write their own question types, familiarity with how the built-in question types worth is a necessary first step.

The steps involved in writing a CodeRunner question using one of the built-in question types are:

  1. Choose your CodeRunner question type.

  2. Specify in the question text the code that you wish the student to write.

  3. Write a set of tests to check the code the student submits.

  4. Write a sample answer.

  5. Select any other options, such as the desired penalty regime, precheck behaviour and answer box preload.

  6. Save your question type and check your sample answer.

Let's look at those steps in more detail.

Choose your CodeRunner question type.

CodeRunner question authoring form

The following built-in question types are currently available within CodeRunner:

  1. c_program
  2. c_function
  3. cpp_program (C++ program)
  4. cpp_function (C++ function)
  5. python2
  6. python3
  7. java_program
  8. java_class
  9. java_method
  10. pascal_program
  11. pascal_function
  12. octave_function
  13. php

By convention, the first part of the name specifies the language in which the student answer must be written and the rest of the name (if present) indicates the type of code unit the student is being asked to write.

Thus for example the question type cpp_program is used for questions where the student is expected to write an entire stand-alone program. The program is tested (usually) by running it with given standard input and/or given files.

cpp_function instead requires the student to write a single function with a specified signature. The student's code is then tested by combining it with a main function, constructed from a given set of tests (each being a fragment of C++ code), so that when the composite program is run, the student's code gets called once for each test.

Scripting languages like python and PHP generally don't need to distinguish between write-a-function and write-a-program questions for reasons that should soon become clear.

The key to understanding CodeRunner question types is the template that the question type uses to construct the test program from the student code plus all the tests that the question author specifies. The c_function question type, for example, has the following template:

    #include <stdio.h>
    #include <stdlib.h>
    #include <ctype.h>
    #include <string.h>
    #include <stdbool.h>
    #include <math.h>
    #define SEPARATOR "#<ab@17943918#@>#"


    int main() {
    {% for TEST in TESTCASES %}
        {{ TEST.testcode }};
        {% if not loop.last %}printf("%s\n", SEPARATOR);{% endif %}
    {% endfor %}
        return 0;

This is a Twig template that is expanded by replacing {{ STUDENT_ANSWER }} with the student-supplied code and inserting the various tests into the main function, repeatedly replacing {{ TEST.testcode }} with the test code fragment for each test. As a concrete example, if the questions asks the student to write a function with signature

int sqr(int n)

that returns the square of its parameter n, and there are a couple of tests specified, say

printf("%d\n", sqr(-11))


printf("%d\n", sqr(9))

then the result of expanding the template, given a correct student answer, would be something like

    #include <stdio.h>
    #include <stdlib.h>
    #include <ctype.h>
    #include <string.h>
    #include <stdbool.h>
    #include <math.h>
    #define SEPARATOR "#<ab@17943918#@>#"

    int sqr(int n) {
        return n * n;

    int main() {
        printf("%d\n", sqr(-11));
        printf("%s\n", SEPARATOR);
        printf("%d\n", sqr(9));
        return 0;

The rest of this document ...

... isn't written yet! Stay tuned.

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