As one way to foster a dialogue about teaching and learning between undergraduate students and the teaching community, the TRC has established an ongoing series entitled Undergraduate Student Focus Group on Teaching and Learning. Each month we invite a cross-section of about ten undergraduates to meet at the TRC to discuss various aspects of teaching and learning.
"Acing the Exam
The second group of the fall convened to consider how students prepare for tests and exams. Participants related suggestions for both professors and students to ensure mastery of material. With regard to what teachers can do to get students to review material more regularly, our group suggested that instructors assign one-page reaction papers for readings to give them direction in considering the material in depth. For science, math, and engineering courses, these students proposed assigning problem sets that represent the types of questions found on tests. They also suggested more frequent testing. Rather than giving only a mid-term and a final exam, they would prefer two or three tests throughout the semester. This requires them to review more regularly and decreases anxiety over grades, as no one test would weight too heavily.
Our participants agreed that having access to old tests helps them anticipate the difficulty level and style of the questions. Consequently they can review more effectively. Additionally, non-ambiguous questions on tests help students give more direct answers and eliminate time spent trying to figure out what the question really asks.
This group noted that students appreciate review sessions that combine formal review by the instructor with a question-and-answer period. The presence of the professor at the session helps clarify difficult questions or issues related to the course. Students suggested that the professor and TAs collaborate and agree upon material to include on both the review sheet and the test to ensure that the session will actually help them prepare the exam. They do not suggest teaching to the test; rather, they would like direction in planning their study strategies. The best time to hold review sessions is two nights prior to the exam, in order to give the students ample time to reconsider the material on their own and ask further questions.
Students see benefits and drawbacks to studying in groups. The early preparation required of groups helps them study more efficiently, and they realize the benefits of having the hands-on experience of explaining material to each other and getting other angles on the material. Problems arise if any group members slack off and wait for others to spoon feed them material or if the group goes off on tangents.
participants basic recommendations to the teaching and learning
community are to allow them the opportunity to practice using the material
through working problems, provide ample opportunity for questions, and
ask them frequently to apply the material. Our student population, as
represented in this discussion, demonstrates a great willingness to
learn, and they appreciate opportunities to show what they have mastered.