Students at university lecture raise hands to ask questions March 5

Conducting In-Class Reviews Effectively

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Good study skills are the key to successful performance on exams in college, and good study skills are what many of today’s college students don’t have. We can spend time pontificating about who bears the responsibility for these absent skills. We can philosophize about who should be going to college. Or our time can be spent helping students become better learners thereby upping their chances of success in our courses, in college and in life.

Exams do manage to motivate most students. They take them seriously. They study for them. That still doesn’t always improve their performance on them. However, there are activities that do improve exam performance and those activities can be modeled and demonstrated by teachers within the course.

I can hear the objections. But I already have so much content to cover. I don’t have time to teach study skills. And shouldn’t students know how to study by the time they get to college?

Fortunately, a lot of these activities don’t require huge time investments. They can be embedded in ongoing course activities, which is the most effective place anyway. One of the tough lessons learned from the efforts to remediate learning deficiencies has been that learning skills are best taught in the context of a discipline-based course. They make sense there and course work provides authentic practice opportunities.

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students taking a test August 24, 2016

Is It Time to Rethink Our Exams?

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I’ve been ruminating lately about tests and wondering if our thinking about them hasn’t gotten into something of a rut. We give exams for two reasons. First, we use exams to assess the degree to which students have mastered the content and skills of the course. But like students, we can get too focused on this grade-generating function of exams. We forget the second reason (or take it for granted): exams are learning events. Most students study for them, perhaps not as much or in the ways we might like, but before an exam most students are engaged with the content. Should we be doing more to increase the learning potential inherent in exam experiences?


arm load of books November 13, 2015

Examining the Benefits of Cumulative Tests and Finals

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With the academic year nearly over and final exams upon us, it’s a good time to consider how we assess student knowledge in our courses. Cumulative finals are still used in many courses, but a significant number of faculty have backed away from them because they are so unpopular with students, who strongly voice their preferences for exams that include only questions on content covered in that unit or module.


March 18, 2015

Using Cumulative Exams to Help Students Revisit, Review, and Retain Course Content

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The evidence that students retain content longer and can apply it better when exams and finals are cumulative is compelling. When I pointed to the evidence in a recent workshop, a faculty member responded, “But I can’t use cumulative exams. My students would revolt.” Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason we should be using them: they force regular, repeated encounters with the content. And it’s those multiple interactions with the material that move learning from memorization to understanding.


January 23, 2015

It’s Not Too Early to Begin Preparing Students for Cumulative Finals

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There are a couple of reasons why students don’t like comprehensive finals. First, they’re more work. Rather than four weeks’ worth of material to know and understand, there’s a semester or term’s worth of content to deal with. However, the research highlighted in an article in this issue of the newsletter and more like it strongly supports that continued interaction with the content increases the chances that it will be remembered and can be used subsequently. Students also don’t like comprehensive exams because most of them don’t use good cross-course study strategies. They wait until finals week and then they start reviewing. Here are some ways teachers can help students develop and use study strategies that make preparing for and doing well on comprehensive finals easier.


April 10, 2014

Do Cumulative Exams Motivate Students?

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Students don’t like cumulative exams—that almost goes without saying. They prefer unit exams that include only material covered since the previous exam. And they’d like it even better if the final wasn’t a comprehensive exam but rather one last unit test. But students don’t always prefer what research shows promotes learning and long-term retention, and that is the case with this study of the effects of cumulative exams in an introductory psychology course.