Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Life After Midterms

An often heard complaint in college classrooms is that from students pertaining to classroom exams.  Students are appalled at the fact that the exams they encounter don’t match up with lecture content word-for-word.  Most often, this is due to the fact that professors would prefer their exams to be more than just a simple test of route memorization, but more towards the experience of learning and applying that knowledge to new circumstances.

Bob Jacobsen, a Physics professor at Berkeley University states that there are just a few simple questions you can ask your students after they’ve completed an exam to encourage students to understand the material so that they can apply it in new and effective ways.

He spends one class period re-doing the exam with the students at the front of the class.  For each problem, he asks a series of questions that students must answer for that problem in order to explain its purpose and relevance on the exam itself.  They include:

1)      Why did I ask this question? 
2)      What were the big areas of understanding I was trying to assess? 
3)      What specific ideas, pitfalls, etc. were involved?
4)      What does a good solution look like? 
5)      What needs to be commented on, what can be written down, and what needs to be worked out? 
6)      How were points awarded or taken away?

Going through these questions illustrates to students how the content studied previous to the exam can be applied through understanding how to effectively use it in new circumstances.  Afterwards, Jacobsen mentions that he usually sees a positive change in approach from students in following exams and assessments.

Another way for students to actively consider an exam and its content in relation to course understanding is the following adaptation from Ed Nufler from Idaho State University. It’s helpful to complete this exercise a day or two after the exam has been handed back so students have had time to look over their answers, and consider the areas that they struggled with.

Then, ask students to bring their graded exams to class, and provide ten minutes or so to answer the following thee questions on 3 x 5 notecards that you provide.

1)      What did I do well on this test and why? 
2)      What did I do poorly on and why? 
3)      What am I going to do about this problem the next time?

You can make this exercise casual without requiring students to include their names on their cards, or you can include it as a small percentage of their grade for the course.  This also provides you with opportunities to summarize comments of importance in following classes.

Tip Provided By: Jessica Moser

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