December 20th, 2010

Helping Students See Correlation Between Effort and Performance



One of the student engagement techniques described in Elizabeth F. Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty has students predicting and reflecting on their exam preparation and performance. It’s a technique that helps students see the correlation between their efforts and their exam scores, as well as one that helps them assess the effectiveness of the study strategies they use.

Here’s how the activity works. After students have finished the exam, but before submitting it, they complete a short post-test analysis questionnaire—you may need to state that you won’t accept the exam unless the analysis sheet is attached. Barkley suggests having students respond to items such as:

  • Predict your exam score.
  • Rate your effort in studying for the exam on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).
  • List the specific learning strategies you used to study for the exam (Did you make flash cards to help you memorize definitions? Rewrite your notes? Create outlines of assigned readings? Discuss the readings with other students?).
  • Identify what you found easiest and most difficult about the exam and explain why.

After the exam has been graded and returned, students do a second analysis—you might want to not record the exam scores until students complete the second analysis, or you might want to offer some bonus points to those students who complete both analyses thoughtfully and carefully. Here are some of the suggested items for this second analysis:

  • Describe your emotional response to your exam score (Surprised? Disappointed? Relieved? Pleased?).
  • Compare your actual score with your predicted score and comment on how well or poorly you predicted your score.
  • Identify where each question came from (in-class material, book material, online resources) and then calculate the percentage of questions missed in each of the categories. What do these percentages tell you?
  • Reflect on the strategies you used for studying for this exam and the amount of time you devoted to study. Describe any changes you plan to make in your approach to studying for the next exam.
  • Do you have any suggestions for how I or your classmates could help you better prepare for the next exam?
  • Based on your performance on this exam, set one goal for the next exam. Make the goal specific and concrete (e.g., “I plan to get at least 75 percent of the questions from the reading materials correct.”).

An activity like this is most beneficial if it’s completed early in the course so that students can act on what they have learned. Although the advantages of such an activity may be perfectly obvious to the teacher, don’t assume that students will automatically see the value of this kind of analysis. Introduce the activity with a discussion of things students can do to improve their exam performance in this (and other) course(s). If students do the activity for more than one exam, you might want to add an item that has them track their performance across the exams, asking to what they attribute their improvement (or lack thereof).

Reference: Barkley, E. F. Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009, 336-339.

Excerpted from “Using Post-Test Analysis to Help Students See Correlation Between Effort and Performance.” The Teaching Professor, 23.10 (2009): 1.

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