Student Exam Reviews

One of the things that has always interested me is whether a student coming to review his or her final exam from last semester helps that student do better the next time around. I’ve recently crunched some preliminary numbers that would seem to indicate an exam review helps—at least for students who take my Civil Procedure class.

First, some context as to the nature of my class and exam. I teach Civil Procedure I and II to a little more than 90 first-year students. The students take an exam (half essay/half multiple choice) at the end of each semester. The topics tested are not cumulative; in other words, I don’t test about material from the first semester unless we’ve encountered that material again in the second semester. In essence, the key points are that I have the same students for consecutive semesters and I give them a very similar exam (in terms of format) at the conclusion of each semester.

Next, some context as to the nature of my exam review process. Students who choose to have an exam review come to my office. At the beginning of the review, I give them a brief spiel about what the statistics were for the exam (i.e., the median on the multiple choice) and how they fared relative to the median on each portion of the exam. I also give some general advice about exam-taking that they have heard at least a couple of times from me during the first semester (e.g., “think before you write”). I then provide students with a copy of their exam, the answers to the multiple choice questions, and a sample essay answer (written by me). The students sit in my office (typically for about 45 minutes to an hour) and look over the materials. I tell the students that they can ask me any question they want while they are in the process of reviewing the materials (and, frequently, students do ask questions). The review often then ends with a conversation where the student tells me what they learned by reviewing their exam.

I’ve always wondered whether these exam reviews help, hurt, or are neutral in relation to student performance, so I decided to run some very basic numbers for several of my Civil Procedure classes. What I found was that 58% of the students came for an exam review and 42% did not. Of those students who came for an exam review, 39% saw their grade go up in the second semester; 34% saw their grade stay even; and 27% saw their grade go down. Of those who did not come for exam review, 23% saw their grade go up, 35% saw their grade stay even; and 43% saw their grade go down.

Now these are very, very basic numbers and one certainly can’t draw any sort of definitive conclusions from them. That said, it does appear that an exam review might be helpful to students in my Civil Procedure class.

Of course, maybe it’s not the exam review itself that helps. Maybe students who sign up for an exam review are more likely to work harder in the second semester than those who do not sign up. Maybe the students who come for an exam review are lower on the curve and thus have nowhere to go but up.  Or maybe there’s some other factor at work that causes students who come in for an exam review to have a better chance of having their grade go up than those who do not.

I’d be interested to know if other professors out there have tried to figure out whether exam reviews help their students and what other theories folks might have that would explain these admittedly very basic numbers.

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1 Response

  1. Dave Hoffman says:

    You could randomize who gets reviews and who doesn’t, if you wanted to make headway on the selection problem (and also wanted a student rebellion on your hands).