Thursday, March 17, 2016

Student Reflections on Test Preparation

This blog post is part of a 10-day blogging initiative started by @tina_zita back in January. I saw some amazing blog posts from many colleagues during the initial challenge, but wasn't able to contribute, myself... until now! This is blog post number 5/10.

Back in January, I decided my #oneword for 2016 would be Reflection: both personal reflection, as well as having my students perform more reflection as they learn. We don't just learn by consuming, we also learn by creating, and by examining how we learn best. Here is what I wrote as part of the Reflection goal for myself:

This is certainly out-of-habit for me, so getting my students to reflect regularly has been tough. But I wanted to share something I started doing with my grade 11 physics class last semester.

At the beginning of January, I had the students answer the following survey, reflecting on how they prepared for a unit test:

This was a great exercise for both me and the students. I reviewed the generalized data with them in class, and we made connections between predicted vs. actual grade (the averages were only off by 1-2%!), and what seemed to work best for most people when they studied.

I was particularly impressed with how they were able to articulate their next steps:

Based on what you felt worked well for you in preparing for this test, what will you do when preparing for the next test/exam? 
Their answers included:
  • I will look back at learning goals and review ones that I don't know how to do immediately.
  • Preparing with another student is worked well for me [sic]. The best way to review is to teach someone else. I also completed the review as well as studied terms.
  • The same thing just study longer
  • I plan to compile up study notes from all the units and look them over.
  • Study more during the week
  • Study before the night before
  • I find I study best when I have no distractions around me and someone consistently telling me to stay on track. For the exam, I will probably ask my peers to study with me. I plan to rewrite all my notes for the unit and make sure I thoroughly understand each concept, asking you for help when I have trouble with a particular subject.


A couple of weeks later, we had another unit test, and I followed that with another reflection survey. I was hoping to see improvements in strategies and preparation time, but there were a number of variables (different lengths of units, significant differences in difficulty of units, extraneous factors such as being swamped with culminating projects for other courses) that affected how my students approached the test. 

I added a few questions, though (listed below, with some of the answers), that I'm hoping helped the students both feel more confident with their studying strategies, as well as analyze their methods to date:

Did you change how you studied for the unit 5 test, based on how you prepared for the unit 4 test? Why or why not? What did you try differently this time?
  • No, I did well on the unit 4 test so I chose to study the same way.
  • My unit 4 test has been my best test mark so far, so I tried to do exactly the same preparation for the unit 5 test.
  • I studied less for the unit 5 test because I was working culminating projects and I just focused less on the unit
  • I ran out of time studying for unit 5 because I was busy with my projects
  • I spent more time looking at online resources as opposed to studying with a friend.
  • I changed how I studied because I didn't get a great mark on the last one. I used the review and studied longer

Based on how you prepared for the past two tests, what tips would you recommend to a friend that is preparing for the final exam?
  • Make sure you understand all the learning goals, vocabulary, and how to apply the formulas in word problems.
  • study for a week or so before the exam and not just the night before
  • Do the review questions, ask a friend or Mrs. T if you need help or don't understand
  • I would suggest a friend to do questions they aren't 100% sure about. Spend more time on the questions that they're bad at and less on the ones that they're good at.
  • Review, review, review, and try not to stress out.
  • Read over notes and make sure that you know the learning goals
The students' answers were insightful, and they seemed to have a good handle on how to prepare themselves well for the upcoming exam. They recognized what worked, and what didn't. I wonder how I can measure what kind of impact this type of reflection has on the students themselves, if any?

What's next?

How can I continue to build on the students' reflection process? One idea is to have the students complete similar surveys this semester, but then use an add-on like DocAppender to curate their answers into a document they can review at the end of the semester, having written several tests. We can ask, is their long-term strategy working? Were they consistent? What did they do to help themselves improve throughout the course?

Another idea is to have them interview each other about these topics, rather than answer in a form. Can they communicate their strategies to each other? Will good conversation be generated on how to approach tests?

Would it be worthwhile to have the students reflect BEFORE the test? Would that reduce stress or increase stress?

Lastly, I would love to be able to incorporate the reflection right into the test itself. I remember seeing someone, somewhere, put a tiny, short reflection question in the margin of each problem to be solved, to be answered right along with the rest of the test. 

It appears I also still have much reflection to do on this... comments and suggestions welcome! Do you have your students reflect on their progress/achievements? How does it work for you?


  1. Wow - I LOVE this, Heather! It's so interesting to read their reflections about how they prepared for the tests. I think it would be well worth it for you to do this over the course of a semester to see if their patterns really do change.

    I have put reflections at the end of tests before, but much shorter. It's definitely doable. And the nice thing is you have "captive audience" :)

    It's ideas and strategies likes these that really make me want to be in a high school. I do try using techniques at the university/college level, but some fall flat because the students complain about being treated like high school students (even though they could definitely benefit as well).

    PS: I did steal your Google Doc test review idea and the few students who used it seemed to really appreciate it.. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Alyssa! That's too bad that older students don't always respond well - it's such a useful process at any level. I'll definitely explore options for having the students do the reflection in tandem with the test. Then I have to figure out the best way helping the students once I have the data...

      That's great to hear about the Google Doc review! Yes, not everyone will use it, but those that do seem to really benefit from it :) I'd love to hear more about what you're trying in your post-secondary classes!

    2. I have been writing about my Astronomy class on my blog: - I do have a few posts that I need to get to (one about the Google Doc review and another about - surprise! - lack of engagement in mandatory math class I teach at the college level).

    3. Awesome! I'll check it out - thanks! :)


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