Friday, April 30, 2010

Exam Preparation Reflection

Last year I tried something new with my seniors.   A lot of my students(and I'm sure yours too) tend to not realize that their preparation for a test has a lot to do with the outcome.  So many seem to think that you are just born with math ability and that directly determines how well you end up doing on tests.  I wanted them to be able to reflect on how they prepared for an exam, and how that led to their grade.  I started crafting a project for my students to help with this.  I had the following goals:

1) Students who give 100% in every class and don't have to study much shouldn't be punished
2) Students should have the option of not doing anything at all.  The fact is some kids don't study, and I want them to be able to face it without punishing them further.
3) Students who work hard should be rewarded.
4) Students would be forced to think about how they prepared while seeing their exam grade.

So, I decided that for the project they would hand in all of the materials they used to study and write up a one paragraph explanation detailing exactly what they did.  I made it clear that if they wanted to they could hand in a paper that said "I didn't do anything to prepare" and it wouldn't be detrimental to their grade so long as they did well on their exam.  The worst grade they could get on their project was their exam grade but they could do better on their project if they prepared well.  I gave them the previous year's exam as practice and gave them some general suggestions on what they could do to best prepare.

I thought this would be a good reflection for my students and that they would learn a lot and it was, but it turned out that I learned from it too.  I had been under the assumption that some students studied well, but struggled on my tests and that other students didn't prepare at all, but ended up doing well.  To my surprise, students' grades lined up almost exactly with the way they prepared.

We spent the whole class on the Monday after exams reflecting on exam prep. I opened by having each student write down their answers to the questions below.
In preparing for your exam...
What did you do that worked?
What did you do that didn't work?
What could you have done better?

I handed back their graded exams and we went through the following stats one at a time(red results are from this year):

Class Average: 83% (83.9%)
Highest grade : 93% (99%)
Average of Students who didn't turn anything in: 72%
Average of Students who "looked over their notes": 74%
Average of students who didn't do any of the practice exam: 75%
Average of students who did the easy problems for them on the practice exam: 79% (76.8%)
Average of the students who did all of the hard parts of the practice exam: 87.4% (88.2%)
Average of students who identified and targeted what was difficult for them: 90% (97.25%)

Then we discussed the results and talked about effective studying.  We talked about how "looking over notes" didn't do much of anything, and how even doing problems that are easy for them didn't really do much either.  We talked about how the largest jump came from the people who made sure to figure out how to do the problems that were harder for them and practiced those problems.  We went over some highlights of the Sweeney Study Method and their answers to the questions from the beginning of class, then used the remaining time to start on test corrections.

Overall, I was really happy with the results of this project.  It forced my students to see how their study habits directly influence their exam grades, and was an interesting learning experience for me as well.  I'd really be interested in seeing results from other classes, so if you try something like this, make sure to let me know how it works out!


  1. I think it's really important to focus on "extra" things like study habits, general organization, responsibility, etc. You're more than a math teacher for your students!

    The clarity and specificity you've described here sound great. Good work!

  2. This is a pretty great idea. I tried it a few times with my 9th and 10th graders two years ago with mixed results. I graphed assignment completion vs. test score. There were, of course, a few outliers, but overall the trend was, "if you do your assignments, you'll do well on the test."
    Most of my students already knew this, so it wasn't really that beneficial. You've taken it one step farther by asking students what they've done to prepare for the assessment. Nice work.

  3. Like Matt and Riley I also like how you took this one step further than I normally do. Breaking it down by specific study strategies was clutch. Like Matt I've done assignment completion vs. grades and self-reported study hours vs. grades. As you said, I was just telling them what they already knew. A lot of kids just don't know how to study. I certainly don't spend as much time as I should showing them different study strategies beyond pointing out where it is in their notes, in the book, or telling them to ask a friend.

  4. This is a great way to help students take responsibility and see the effects of productive study time. I think it's great that you talk explicitly about things like this. Logistical question: how did you generate the stats of test scores by study method the same day you asked about their study method?

    One more random question: How do you work test corrections in your class? Required/optional? In class/out of class? Etc.

  5. Thanks for the comments!

    @Jessica I generate the stats from the project they turn in the day of their exams. The questions that day are just an opener to get the discussion rolling about study strategies.

    I don't have one solid way for test corrections really, but I generally just make it either an in class or (required)homework assignment depending on how much time I have.

  6. NIce Work. I am interested in this topic mostly because the classic teacher whine is that the students don't study. I would be interested in knowing why some student's only did the easiest problems or none at all. My guess is that they don't know how to do the harder ones and the resources you've given then don't make the difference. I haven't done this yet but I really think the students need actual worked solutions to practice exam questions. The old school teacher in me resists thinking they will just copy the answers which is probably true for some but for the students who work hard but aren't good at abstracting ideas need a serious resource to get them over the edge. The danger would be to label the students who didn't turn anything in or just did the easiest problems as lazy...

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