Learning from Failure: Debriefing Exams

I’m working on making exams into better learning experiences. My inspiration came from a Faculty Focus post on “Getting More out of Exam Debriefs” by Maryellen Weimer. I’ll reblog the epiphanic paragraph:

“[One] strategy encourages students to conduct an exam analysis where they review their exam and look at the questions missed to see if there’s a pattern (are they missing questions for the same reason?). Then they write brief descriptions of how they studied and, based on that information, they consider if there are changes that might better prepare them for the next exam. The instructor lists a number of study options and demonstrates a variety of them while teaching. After their analysis, students schedule a short meeting with the professor to discuss what they’ve learned. Approximately 50 percent of the students in a human anatomy course participated in this exam analysis, and those who did significantly improved their scores on the second exam.”

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last semester I followed a modified version of this strategy. I gave students an opportunity to make up at least half the points they had lost on the mid-term exam. Three students took me up on it. They came to my office. We discussed how they had prepared for the mid-term and how they might better prepare for the final. They re-took a portion of the mid-term, answering many of the questions correctly this time. All three improved their scores on the final exam.

I’ve already given one exam this semester. Any student who scored less than 80% will receive a compelling invitation to debrief the exam with me. My goals: 1) to get better acquainted with the students; 2) to support their learning; 3) to help them do better on the next exam; 4) to learn something about teaching.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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