Teaching From the Test: Exam Wrappers

Picture of Graded exam

As an educational technologist, I have the opportunity to consult with faculty members who want to know how they can best help students prepare for upcoming examinations. During our discussions, faculty members comment that students focus (obsess) on their test score and not what they might have done differently to prepare for their exams.  When I attended the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in Philadelphia this past spring, I learned about a pedagogical tool faculty members utilize to help students learn from past exams and become more purposeful in the manner in which they prepare for future exams. This tool is known as exam wrappers.  Lovett (2013) described exam wrappers as, “structured reflection activities that prompt students to practice key metacognitive skills after they get back their graded exams” (p. 18).  Exam wrappers promote the development of self-regulated learning by prompting students to reflect, compare, and modify their learning strategies.

Exam wrappers pose three types of questions to students:

Question markWhat did they do to prepare for the exam? The purpose of this question is to prompt student reflection and help them evaluate the choices they made studying for the exam.  Questions posed to students include: How much time did you spend studying? and What exam preparation strategies did they use, such as, reviewing notes, studying in a group, working practice problems, or reading the course texts.) When faculty members present exam strategy choices, students are reminded of additional methods they can use to prepare.

Where did they make exam errors?  When exams are returned, students identify areas where they lost points and consider why the points were lost. For example, students may have lost points because they did not understand the question, did not understand how to apply a given concept or formula, or made careless mistakes.  Some instructors also incorporate open-ended questions so that students can identity other areas that affect exam performance, such as test anxiety.

What could they do differently to prepare for the next exam? This question is designed to encourage students to review their response to the first two exam wrapper questions and then list strategies that they could utilize to improve future performance.

Sample Exam Wrapper

 Figure 1. Sample Exam Wrapper

The Exam Wrapper Process

  1. Students utilize normal test taking strategies to prepare and take the first exam.
  2. The first exam is returned and students complete the exam wrapper either in class or online within a course management system, such as Blackboard Learn. (Instructors can either make the assignment required or award participation points for completion).
  3. The instructor collects the exam wrapper and reviews student comments.  This allows the instructor to assess student behavior patterns and determine whether the teaching staff needs to include additional teaching resources to support student learning.
  4. The exam wrapper is returned to students within a week or two before the next exam.  Students review their comments and then have the opportunity to follow their own advice for studying.

Benefits of Exam Wrappers

Exam wrappers:

  • Can be implemented without infringing on class time.
  • Are easy to complete by students.
  • Are repeatable and flexible. Faculty members can incorporate questions that address topics that are being covered in their curriculum.
  • Can be used to help faculty adjust their teaching strategies and assist students in achieving learning outcomes.
  • Help students develop metacognitive skills that faculty want them to learn. These skills include the ability to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, identify study strategies that work for them, and adjust their learning strategies. (Lovett, 2013)

Blog Resources:

Bowen, J. (2013). Cognitive wrappers: Using metacognition and reflection to improve learning. Retrieved from http://josebowen.com/cognitive-wrappers-using-metacognition-and-reflection-to-improve-learning/

Ebbler, J. (2013, July 31). Exam wrappers. Retrieved from http://teachingwithoutpants.blogspot.com/2013/07/exam-wrappers.html

Pinchin, S. (2013, June 17). Exam wrappers: A novel way to review exams. Retrieved from http://meds.queensu.ca/blog/undergraduate/?p=653


Lovett, Marsha C. (2013). Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition. In M. Kaplan, N. Silver, D. LaVague-Manty, & D.  Meizlish (Eds.), Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning: Across the disciplines, across the academy (pp. 18-52). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Prepared by: Dr. Constance A. Harris

About Constance Harris

Constance is an Educational Technologist in ITaP. She earned her Ph.D. in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University in 2013.
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