Getting More from Exams

Exam Wrappers

After students have taken an exam, they usually focus on their grade and how it will factor into their final grade in the course. This focus on scores is understandable, considering the powerful impact of grades on students’ academic progress, financial aid, future goals, and even self-perceptions. But this focus doesn’t help students learn more in the class, and exams can be rich opportunities for learning.

If students just check their scores and the class moves on, they miss an opportunity to reflect on how they are building knowledge and skills in the course, and to identify the mistakes or misunderstandings revealed by the exam. This information about where they are succeeding and what they need to work on more or correct is crucial for their success in the course; without it, they’re likely to end up trying to construct knowledge on increasingly shaky foundations.

To take advantage of the learning opportunity exams provide, faculty in a variety of disciplinesuse activities called exam wrappers to help students think critically about their own learning, so that they can learn more effectively and perform better both in the remainder of the class and in future courses. (Students can do metacognitive activities after completing projects, too. These are sometimes called assignment wrappers.) These wrappers help students to learn from their errors and further consolidate the skills they’re developing. The most fruitful wrappers ask students to do two things:

  1. Review their work and do some error analysis, identifying what they missed and where the information related to those questions or problems can be found. If students have an opportunity to correct their errors, they should also be asked to explain why the correct answer is the right response, or how the work could be improved. They need to identify what major concepts they had trouble with, so they can go back and fill in the gaps in their learning. We can even encourage them to form study groups to work on this.
  2. Reflect on how they prepared for the exam or tackled the assignment. How much time did they invest? What did studying mean—reading the material, outlining, reviewing notes, answering practice questions? If their strategies didn’t work, how do they plan to prepare differently next time? Less successful students are often those who read over their notes repeatedly, rather than grappling with sample questions. They may be investing enormous amounts of time to little avail, but you can point them toward guides to effective study habits, like Dr. Chew’s. Students should also look for patterns in their errors: did their mistakes reflect miscalculations, misreading questions, etc.?

When you ask students to complete a wrapper, they benefit greatly from the opportunities for deeper learning. Some faculty don’t record an exam grade until the wrapper is completed; some use them as in-class assignments; some administer a second exam on the same material after a week or so, and average the two grades, or let students use the wrapper to earn back a limited number of points they missed on an exam. Some even give two-stage exams.

If you would like support to create an exam wrapper, or to adapt an existing one to fit the context of your course, we would be happy to help! Contact us at to schedule a consultation. We look forward to working with you!

Upcoming Events

Burnout: Teaching, Emotional Labor, and Exhaustion

Wednesday, October 6 | 4:00–5:00 p.m. on Zoom | Sign up to attend

Burnout has been rampant in academia during the pandemic. During this session, which will be part expert panel, part conversation and Q&A, we will discuss the chronic exhaustion and overwhelm many of us have reported experiencing while teaching during the last few semesters. Participants will have an opportunity to learn more about burnout, to share their experiences, and to ask questions of our panelists:

  • Melissa Bolen, Clinical Coordinator of FSU’s Employee Assistance Program
  • Robert Eklund, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Advancement, College of Education
  • Karen Oehme, Director of FSU’s Institute for Family Violence Studies and Research Associate in the College of Social Work
  • Jeannine Turner, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems