Preparing students for exams

While not teaching to an exam and giving students either the questions or answers, part of an instructors role is to prepare students for any exams or tests that a course may have.

This can be done throughout the course by asking students review questions that mimic (but not duplicate) questions from the exam.  This exposes students to the format, language, and difficulty of what the final exam will contain.

Instructors should also set time aside to talk specifically about answering questions on their specific exam: how long is a response to a short answer question?  How much formatting should be put into a long answer question?  Where to record the answers to multiple choice questions?

Just recently, one of our full time courses uses ‘bubble sheets’ to record the responses to the multiple choice questions.  It was the first time the majority of the students had ever seen a bubble sheet.

Some time in the class before the exam can help students to understand what the expectations are from the individual instructors, and helps to alleviate student stress with exams.

The use of silence in the classroom

When posing a question to a class, many instructors get a sinking feeling in their stomach as the room goes quiet.  No one is volunteering an answer, and the instructor speaks up to fill the void, giving the answer to the question.

Instead of fearing that silence and filling the gap, instructors should be patient.  Give students time to think of the answer.  For many of our students in particular, they need time to hear the words, translate them, think about the answer, translate the answer, and then speak.  If you are too fast to fill the void, students miss the chance the answer, to confirm and demonstrate their understanding.

The next time you pose a question and no one answers, take a moment to let the class think. Take a sip of water / coffee, count to ten, restate the question, and invite a reply.

Bad examples can be good

Quite often students look to instructors to provide a sample of an assignment, something they can use as a template or guideline.  Giving an example can be helpful, provided that students do not just copy the sample and turn it in.  That’s where a bad example can be of assistance.  Instead of providing an example of the ‘ideal’ submission, supplying an example of how not to do the assignment can be used.

Provide the ‘poor’ or ‘below expectations’ assignment in advance of the class.  After discussing the materials for the assignment, give students an opportunity to review the example and identify errors and omissions.

This can be a good way to confirm understanding of the concepts in the classroom.  No marks are involved, so it is a low stakes discussion.  Students can discuss their answers without fearing any consequences.  Both instructors and students receive feedback; students on their understanding of the concepts, and instructors on how the teaching went.  Critiquing a piece of work is also a higher level skill.  Students are not only being asked to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts, but to pick out errors and correct work.

Bad examples can be good for students.

Nexus Tip of the Month: Assignment Folders

When creating Assignment folders, or dropboxes as they used to be called in the full time programs, adding a “Category” to the folder helps to group the folders and make your course stand one.

When creating the folder, on the first screen, where you enter the folder name, scroll down the page and you will see a box for CATEGORY.  The first time you use it, you need to click NEW CATEGORY next to the box.  Enter your course name.  Next time you create a dropbox, just select your course from the drop down menu.

This will group all of your Assignment folders together and allow both you and the students to find them quickly.