Exam Wrappers

Exam Wrappers

Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Students and professors alike can identify with the chagrin of seeing a less than desirable grade on an exam, but if on top of this students are struggling with how to move forward to improve, the situation can be even more frustrating. The answer lies in designing a fast and efficient method to help students pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in their studying habits and give them a plan for coming exams.

“Exam wrappers” may be the answer for students who need direction to help them improve their exam scores but aren’t sure where to start, according to Marsha C. Lovett.  Lovett designed this activity and discusses it in her chapter “Make Exams Worth More Than the Grade” in the book Using Reflection and Metacognition to Improve Student Learning (Kaplan, Silver, et al., eds.)

How to Set Up Exam Wrappers

Exam wrappers are quick quiz-type questionnaires to help students reflect on what they got wrong on the test and create a plan to improve on the next one. Just three questions long, they are engineered to be quick and easy for students to complete while still covering the basic information:

1.  How did the student prepare for the exam?

This allows for reflection on what the student did right while studying, and what they can improve on for next time. For example, if they write down that they crammed for the test, studied minimally, or studied concepts but not more specific problems, for example, they will begin to associate this method of studying with their presumably lower test grade. Alternatively, good study practices will support a higher test grade and let the student know they are studying optimally.

2. What errors did the student make?

This section asks the student to analyze which problems they answered incorrectly. Do they notice a trend with a certain concept or type of problem? Are any of the problems they had trouble with due to a possible lack of/inefficient method of studying? If so, they can look back to Question 1 and see where they might have fallen short in their studying habits (or lack thereof).

3. How should the student study for the next exam?

Here, the student considers the possible correlations between how they study and what they had trouble with. If, through the prior two questions, they have found a trend (such as not studying a concept enough and subsequently missing most problems related to that concept on the test), the student knows how to direct their studying for the next exam.

Perhaps their greatest strength, however (besides providing a clear and visual way for students to associate their studying with their results) are the flexibility and ease that come with using the exam wrappers. Lovett writes that in order for the wrappers to be most effective they must be:  

  1. targeted on the metacognitive skills that instructors want their students to learn

  2. repeatable from multiple practice opportunities

  3. exemplified in diverse contexts

  4. grounded in the content of students' disciplinary learning.

How To Use Exam Wrappers

Lovett offers a five-step outline for how exam wrappers are used in the classroom:

  1. Students prepare for and take the exam using their typical study strategies.
  2. Instructors hand out the exam wrappers alongside the exam results and class time (probably only approximately 10 minutes) is devoted to filling them out. Alternatively, the exam wrappers can be homework, an inline assignment, and graded, and graded or ungraded.
  3. The instructor collects the exam wrappers. This step is necessary for a variety of reasons: if the instructor is making them an assignment, he/she needs to keep track of who has completed them. Additionally, collecting them and analyzing the students’ responses gives the instructional team a sense of strengths and weaknesses.
  4. At the time when students should begin studying for the next exam, the instructor returns the completed exam wrappers (from the previous exam) to students so they can revisit their responses. Another option is to give students a few minutes to reread their exam wrappers and then take a few minutes for students to share effective study strategies.
  5. (optional, but desirable): Repeat steps 2 through 4 for subsequent exams.

Sierra Freeman ‘15 is majoring in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing.

See Also

Turn an exam into a learning experience with two-stage exams, by Carl Wieman

Retrieval Practice: how recalling information helps students learn it better