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.