Integrated Science Education @ Georgia Tech

Exam Wrappers in Chemistry


Students in freshman chemistry have recently been using exam wrappers. While they sound like something to keep the sticky off your hands, exam wrappers are actually tools to help students learn from their mistakes. I've asked Dr. Carrie Shepler, director of freshman chemistry, to tell us a little more about them:

1) What are exam wrappers?
Exam wrappers are a tool geared toward helping students reflect on their approach to studying for an exam, how effective it was and what (if anything) needs to change for them to be more successful or maintain their success. Wrappers are administered via T-Square's "tests and quizzes" feature, and they are from "How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching" by Ambrose, et al (2010). Students are asked to report how long they spent working practice problems, reading the text, reviewing lecture notes, making up their own problems and other similar tasks. There is also a focus on how long they spent studying on their own vs. with others. They also can report which topics on the exam with which they had the most trouble, and there are free response sections for students to list what they will do differently to prepare for the next exam as well as what we can do as instructors to help them improve.

2) Why do you use them and how long have you been using them?
Cianan Russell piloted the use of exam wrappers in CHEM 1211K in the spring semester of 2011 as part of a project with Eric Moschella, formerly of the Center for Academic Success (Cianan continues to be the driving force for the project). We thought the exercise was very beneficial, and we began using them in CHEM 1211K and 1212K last academic year. We now use them in all three of the freshman program classes. We believe that exam wrappers help students develop metacognitive skills, and they open a good dialogue between instructors and students regarding the roles both parties play in student success.

3) Have you noticed that using exam wrappers makes a difference in student learning in your classes?

I am not sure that the exam wrappers make a difference in learning so much as they make a difference in ownership of performance. However, helping students develop strong study skills that can be applied throughout their careers is a primary goal of the freshman chemistry program, and we do think it gets them started in that direction.