Exam Wrappers: A novel way to review exams

Exam Wrappers

Here’s a new and very interesting tool called “Exam Wrappers” that you can add to your exam review after mid-terms and even finals. It enables students to think more carefully about their studying and learning. It is from a chapter by Marsha C. Lovett, (2013) Chapter 2, in Make Exams Worth More Than the Grade, in the book, Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning, edited by Matthew Kaplan, et al, Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia.,

This is a technique that engages students in reflection, metacognition (learning to learn) and self-regulated learning. Prof. Lovett’s approach was to “build metacognitive practice around exams” and in so doing satisfy the many constraints that challenge metacognition in a curriculum.

What are Exam Wrappers?

Exam wrappers are short activities that direct students to review their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) on an exam, with an eye toward adapting their future learning. Exam wrappers ask students three kinds of questions: How did they prepare for the exam? What kind of errors did they make on the exam? What could they do differently next time?

Prof. Lovett provides examples in Appendices A1 and A2 of her book. Here is a summary of her work on the three questions above:

1. How did you prepare for the exam?
Benefits of this question:
• Challenge student to confront study process and implicit or explicit choices they made about their studying
• Asks themselves if they studied enough or with enough lead time
• Focusing on diverse study methods (reviewing notes, solving practice problems, rereading the textbook) points out that there are many approaches they can use for next time

2. What kinds of errors did you make?
Benefits of this question:
• Challenges students to move beyond marks: with high marks, they tend to be relieved and move on; with low marks, they may leave the “painful event behind.”
• Allows opportunity to analyze in greater depth, e.g. considering level of difficulty of the questions they may have had problems with, looking for patterns in types of errors.
• Gives them a lexicon re. self-assessment: e.g. “Did they read the question carefully? Did they have trouble setting up the problem? Did they fail to understand the concepts involved?” Or “Did they make mistakes on the required math, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, etc.?”

3. How should you study for the next exam?
Benefits of this question:
• Ties responses from #1 and 2 together
• “A key goal of the third type of question is to help students see the association between their study choices and their exam performance so they can better predict what study strategies will be effective in the future.” (Lovett, 2013)
• Asks students to attribute their problems from #2 to some specific study errors, or look back at #1 and #2 and ask how they would specifically prepare differently.

Benefits of exam wrappers:
1. Impinge minimally on class time.
2. Are as easily completed by students within the time they are willing to invest.
3. Are easily adaptable. (Faculty can add their own concerns in #2, for example, asking about test anxiety or other issues). Can be used with other types of graded assessments.
4. Are repeatable yet flexible. (can add new questions or change questions slightly to keep things “fresh”)
5. Exercise the key metacognitive skills instructors want their students to learn: assess strengths and weaknesses, identify strategies for improvement, and generate adjustments.

Steps for Exam Wrappers
1. Hand back exams.
2. Assign “Wrapper” with questions.
3. Students complete, either during the exam review, for homework, or online (non-graded but required element). Students can also share study techniques with classmates.
4. Instructor collects and reviews to gain new knowledge of student needs, and patterns of behavior (e.g. amount of hours spent studying)
5. Hand back wrappers, or remind students about them as they might begin studying for another exam.
6. Repeat for subsequent exams (you can streamline a wrapper for a later exam, eg.)

Thanks to the Tomorrow’s Professor Digest for this idea from Prof. Sharon Lovett.

2 Responses to Exam Wrappers: A novel way to review exams

  1. Eleni Katsoulas says:

    Great Idea! I wonder if the “wrapper” with responses collected could be an anonymous? As I am not sure if students will be entirely honest about the amount of hours spent studying etc. Students could keep their own journal with answers to these questions for future reference. Otherwise, a great idea using reflection and metacognition to improve learning.

    • These can be collected, but for our use in UGME, I think they could rather be self-assessment. However, they could also come up in any discussions with faculty about exams, assignments, etc. and can demonstrate a pattern of performance.

Leave a Reply

Post Timeline

The Making of a Closer
Published Mon, August 24, 2015

Roberto Osuna is a closer. The term “closer”, in this case, refers to a person who has a critical, very specialized, and highly visible position of responsibility on a baseball team. These folks are called upon to come into the game at the most critical juncture, when the outcome is very much in doubt, and are entrusted with ensuring that … Continue reading

“When you wish upon a star…” Alyssa’s Journey
Published Mon, August 10, 2015

When you wish upon a star Makes no difference who you are Anything your heart desires Will come to you. From: Pinocchio (1940), Walt Disney Pictures. Sung by: Cliff Edwards The idea of allowing students to determine and design their own educational experiences may seem counter-intuitive to many, including students themselves. It’s certainly not easy to implement. However, setting aside … Continue reading

Get to the point with Ask-Tell-Ask feedback
Published Mon, August 3, 2015

By Theresa Suart & Eleni Katsoulas   Giving and receiving feedback effectively is a key part of the UGME curriculum. It’s also key in nearly every workplace, which could explain why there are so many different frameworks and recommendations for feedback “best practices”. Some of these are more effective than others. Have you heard of the feedback sandwich? It’s one … Continue reading

Are we forcing our students to choose between Learning and Success?
Published Mon, July 27, 2015

As the father of four sons, I have found that thought-provoking, articulate conversations with 17 year-old males are rare and remarkable occurrences indeed. Nonetheless, I was fortunate enough to have just such an experience this past week. It all began when I came upon an article by Kristin Rushowy that appeared on the front page of the Toronto Star on … Continue reading

Bringing things into focus: Using focus groups to collect feedback
Published Mon, July 20, 2015

By Theresa Suart & Eleni Katsoulas Amongst the plethora of student feedback we solicit about our courses, you may wonder why we sometimes add in focus groups. What could be added to the more than a dozen questions on course evaluation and faculty feedback surveys? The information we gather in student focus groups doesn’t replace the very valuable narrative feedback … Continue reading