July 29th, 2010

Exam Wrappers


Here’s a strategy that helps students look at more than the grade when an exam is returned. An exam wrapper (I like the name) is a handout attached to the exam that students complete as part of the exam debrief process. The wrapper directs students “to review and analyze their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) with an eye toward adapting their future learning.” (p. 251)

For example, here are some of the queries included on an exam wrapper students completed after reviewing a graded physics exam.

–Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for this exam?

–What percentage of your test-preparation time was spent on each of these activities? (A list follows, which includes the following items: reading the textbook, rereading the textbook, reviewing homework problems and solutions, solving practice problems, reviewing notes, and looking at material on the course website, among others.)

–After looking over your exam, estimate the percentage of points lost due to each of the following. (Another list follows: actual content, algebra or arithmetic errors, lacking of understanding of the concept, not knowing how to approach the problem, careless mistakes, and the option for students to identify something else.)

–Based on your responses to the questions above, name at least three things you plan to do differently in preparing for the next exam. (This is followed by advice on how named items need to be specific and illustrated with examples.)

–What can we do to help support your learning and your preparation for the next exam?

The completed wrappers are collected and reviewed by the course instructor (and in this case, TAs). Those teaching the course use them to look for student approaches and patterns that produced good results and those that did not. These are then shared with students.

Most effective of all, the wrappers are returned to students a week or so before the next exam. After reviewing them, students can be engaged in a discussion during which various study strategies are shared and analyzed.

This great idea appears in a new book: How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching by Susan Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Marsha C. Lovett, Michele DiPietro, and Marie K. Norma. It is published and offered for sale by Jossey-Bass (www.josseybass.com)