Campus: University of Washington 

6. Pre-Exam Exam

Educator: Lynne Spencer -STEM Instructional Specialist, Engineering Academic Center
Context: In-class and out of class; ENGR 197 Academic Workshop for Chemistry
Keywords: chemistry, exam preparation
Student Activity Time: chemistry, exam preparation

Students completed an old chemistry exam in a test environment to prepare for the actual, upcoming exam.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

Some of the core science curricula in engineering presents a notable challenge for students. The Academic Workshop for Chemistry course, taught by the chemistry specialist in the Engineering Academic Center, is a pass or fail class to support engineering students who are taking the core chemistry courses. The educator used a “pre-exam exam” to prepare students for the real, upcoming chemistry exam. The pre-exam exam questions were from past administrations of the upcoming test. After students completed the pre-exam, they were asked to respond to a short series of questions in a class discussion to reflect on the exam taking experience.  The purpose of this activity was to help students adequately prepare for chemistry examinations, identify material to review, and mentally prepare for the exam.

The educator facilitated a realistic exam setting, by acting as a proctor, and applied general exam day rules, and other small details to simulate the test-taking environment. Students completed the exam within a strict time allotment and immediately after that, the educator facilitated a class conversation with the following questions:

  1. Did you finish the exam?
  2. Did you feel the exam was short? Long?
  3. Did you expect everything you saw on the exam? What percent of the exam did you expect? What surprised you?
  4. Do you feel ready for next week (for the real thing)?
  5. How did you approach the exam? Did you read the instructions? Did you review the questions and see where the points were? Did you work the exam front to back or skip around? Where did you spend most of your time?
  6. What is the total score that you are confident that you earned? What is the number of possible points that you might have earned but aren’t 100% sure of? How many points do you know you lost for certain?

The educator then assigned students to re-take the exam for the next class meeting as homework. During the next class meeting, students presented assigned problems to each other using white boards available in the classroom. As students presented, the educator asked students to explain why they used a certain procedure and then explained the number of points they would earn on the exam for their answers as presented. The educator also provided information and re-taught any new or difficult material to the class.

As a result of the activity, students implemented strategies to ensure their success on the upcoming exam. Many students took steps such as completing additional problems, re-reading concepts, and visiting office hours after completing the pre-exam exam. Students increased their likely performance on the actual exam and adopted revised studying and test taking strategies for the long term.

 Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Administer an old version of the exam in a realistic, proctored environment at least one week prior to the actual exam.
2 Conduct a debrief discussion immediately after the exam.
3 Assign the completion of all the exam questions for the next class period.
4 Give students a question to solve on the white board in class and present it to the group.
5 Challenge the students to explain why a solution works during their presentation to the class. Remind them of how many points they would earn for the question.
6 Provide additional office hours to students as needed.
In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration

The follow up is important. The students don’t necessarily force themselves to re-work the problems on their own. The practice reinforces what they know and lets them know what they don’t. The outcome of the exercise is better when you follow through with the homework and problem presentation. Each step of the activity is important and has a reason. The exam helps them get their nervousness out, the homework forces them to work it on their own, and solving the problems in class gives them a chance to teach and realize that there can be multiple ways to solve the problem. Reworking the same problems also gives students more practice. 

Hold the students accountable. I try to emulate what the students are going to experience during the actual exam. Sometimes it’s gruff when they run out of time while trying to answer the questions. They can see they aren’t going to pass the exam without more preparation. Afterwards, having them do the problems and explain it to their classmates also matters. Many tutors will show them the answers, but that doesn’t teach them the process of how to solve the problems. If they have to present to others, they have to know how to do the problem and be ready to answer questions. I don’t want them go someplace where they can just get the answer and move on. This activity helps uncover the people I thought were ready, but really weren’t. It gives me time to grab them and offer.

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity? The idea to do this exam came from the students. They always want more problems to solve before exams in the format that the actual course instructors will use, not the problems at the end of the chapter. They asked for old exams, and since that is already ingrained in the student culture here, I decided to take it a step further and do it for real. I know they may not have gone through all the material on the exam in class before I give it to them, but we’re doing it anyway for practice. The activity evolved into being more formal to improve effectiveness, especially adding in the time for them to work the exam on their own and present to each other in the next class.

< Back to University of Washington