IMG_6806Many classes have an exam scheduled around the middle of the term. Having a review session before an exam can be a good way to reinforce the main ideas that you’re trying to get across to your students. Although cramming for exams does not promote good practices for long-term learning, studies do show that having some kind of review before an exam can improve test scores.1 Students may expect you to tell them exactly what will be on the exam. But the review should be conducted in a way so that it becomes obvious to the student what he thinks he knows and what he might have missed during lectures, readings, and discussions.

Instructor-prepared Study Guide

As the instructor, you know the important details and ideas that you’ve presented to your students. Preparing a study guide for them offers the opportunity to reinforce these details and ideas. Creating a guide is also a very passive activity for students that probably won’t stick with them much beyond the upcoming exam.

One way to turn this around would be to create small groups (2-3 people) and have them teach each other. As you are highlighting important concepts, one student tells the other students what she knows about the concept without interruption from the other group members. Then switch positions, and have the other group members talk about what the first student might have missed. If there are unclear points, have the group compose questions and then you can open up a broader discussion with the entire class using these questions. Be sure to remind students to think about evidence and examples that support the concepts.

Another strategy for turning instructor-driven questions from passive to active learning would be to turn the process into a game. Following similar rules for games like Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, or other popular gameshows, reviews should encourage students to participant and pay attention to concepts of which they might not have complete understanding. Bump it up a level by creating small groups of students to challenge each other. Throw in a point system or a negative point system to add a competitive, yet collaborative, edge to the review. Several UAF instructors have tried game buzzers. Gail Kawakami -Schwarber used the game buzzers in one of her Professional Ethics class and had this to say:

“My use of “game buzzers” in teaching always causes quite a buzz among my students. They really enjoyed the addition of a bit of competition; while challenging, they also found it fun and engaging. Perhaps most importantly, the class’s learning session deepened the bond among the students that is so vital for the success of these types of courses.”

Lots of game templates can be found online that use MS Powerpoint. There are also a variety of online tools available to help you create engaging games.

Student Questions

Break the class into small groups and have the groups come prepared with questions that they think you’ll be asking on the exam based on previous class lectures and readings. In class, collect these questions and have the other groups answer them. Then discuss the answers. If students are missing any major points try to draw the conversation towards those points. You may also choose to incorporate some of the student’s better questions into your exam! It is true that students may come up with questions that are easy and barely touch upon deeper understanding, or the questions may miss the big overarching concepts. To help students get beyond this, provide sample questions that address thinking critically about your topic so that students can use these as examples to model their group questions.

Maybe you’re not interested in taking class time to have a review session and feel that students need to take the initiative to review on their own. TheMcGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University has a great list of suggestions for students that you could share with them.

1. King, D. (2010). Redesigning the preexam review session. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40, 88-96.