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

When you are yourself, I’m free to be myself
Published Mon, May 18, 2015

“When you are yourself, I’m free to be myself” The Reverend Bill Hendry spoke these words as a “first patient” at the First Patient Program’s 3rd annual Grand Finale on Wed. May 13. He was addressing the 100 students of the class of 2017 who had completed their 18 plus months of relationship with their first patient, whom they’d met … Continue reading

Milestones: A tribute to our tenacious 2015 graduating class.
Published Mon, May 11, 2015

“One hundred and eighty-five”. That was the answer to my question. The question, that I’d posed somewhat naively to our intrepid assessment coordinator, Amanda Consack, was “how many assessments have the 2015 class undertaken during medical school?” “Do you mean everything?” she asked. “Yes. Everything”, I answered, not wanting to sound wimpy. In her typical fashion, Amanda provided me not … Continue reading

Student attention in class: Whose responsibility?
Published Mon, May 4, 2015

I just received a posting from Faculty Focus with the engaging title:  Why can’t students just pay attention?  Dr. Chris Hakala, the author, gives a really good overview of the dilemma many of us face when teaching:  students are not engaged, are multi-tasking at best, and distracted at worst, and are not learning or retaining key concepts.  How much responsibility … Continue reading

Queen’s student wins 2015 Sandra Banner Award for Leadership
Published Tue, April 28, 2015

Queen’s Class of 2015 student Eve Purdy received the CaRMS Sandra Banner Award for Student Leadership at the CaRMS forum held in conjunction with the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) in Vancouver on April 26. Richard Reznick, Dean of the Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences, presented the award on behalf of the award selection committee. “Eve has always challenged … Continue reading

Call for information on community projects
Published Tue, April 28, 2015

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the UGME Service Learning Panel is interested in compiling an inventory of student volunteer initiatives which may fit the definition of service-learning. The call was sent to all students through the class presidents’ weekly email. Students are encouraged to send information about their current initiatives, even if these may not 100 percent fit … Continue reading