Exam Wrappers – a reflection

5 February 2018

Author: Kate Mouncey and Karen Roskilly - Sandringham School Research Leads

Last week was the Year 13 trial exams and as we both teach a Year 13 heavy timetable, we found ourselves confronted by a pile of exams papers that needed marking.  More importantly, we had decisions to make about how best to provide feedback to students on these exams papers that was formative, effective and moved their learning forward.

Both of us liked the thought of utilising an idea we had come across in our research into metacognition: exam wrappers.  Exam wrappers involve worksheets containing reflective questions that help learners to review their performance in a test or exam.  Before receiving their exam paper and feedback, students are asked to reflect on the way they prepared for the exam and the study strategies they used.  After receiving the feedback, students consider and categorise any errors and identify ways to improve.  The process is particularly useful for helping students to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in their approach to exams as well as in the content of the exam itself.

Exam wrappers in Sociology

My students completed this exam wrapper in Sociology.  I asked them to complete the first side of the A4 sheet in silence and we then, as a class, discussed and reflected on the strengths and weaknesses that the questions had identified.

I then gave the exam papers back to students and asked them to read through their answers and my written annotations in silence and then answer the first question on the other side of the A4 sheet.  Again, at this point, we discussed their thoughts at this point as a whole class.

I then provided whole-class feedback, giving a general overview of issues each question had raised (I had made a note of these as I was marking the papers).  After this, the students then completed the summary table on the exam wrapper, identifying the five key weaknesses they had found in their exam paper and suggesting ways they could improve/overcome this next time.

Exam wrappers in Geography

My students also completed an exam wrapper (many thanks to Kelly Bulbeck in English for providing me with an excellent example to adapt).  They calculated their own percentage scores for the different topic sections to help them to reflect on their differing performance throughout the exam.  They then ticked a table of revision strategies to state the types of activities that they had undertaken to prepare for the exam. I had a glance at this and saw that some had ticked only one box; ‘Reread textbook/notes’.  This is despite a constant message used throughout the course, of the need to plan out answers and practise.  Most had ticked to say that they had planned out answers, but few had practised questions without notes and in timed conditions.  This highlights the need for me to revisit this strategy and think through how to promote this essential approach as we move towards the actual exams in June.  I will be doing this through a timetabled homework schedule of exam plans and answers in all topics, starting this week.

The exam wrapper also had a reflection area on the back which asked students to state specific actions that they will now take to improve knowledge and understanding of both content and exam technique.  By actually committing this to paper, I hope that it will have more of an impact.  I will also ask them to reread it at points between now and June.

The verdict!

Overall, we are convinced that self-regulation can make a difference to learners, particularly at 16+, and this is the start of more explicit attempts from us to support students in this aspect of their learning.

Further information:

The Sociology exam wrapper can be found here: Sociology Trial Exam Reflection

The Geography exam wrapper can be found here: Trial Exam Reflection (002)

More about exam wrappers can be found in our previous Research School Teaching Tip on metacognition here.

And Carnegie Mellon University has more information here.

Posted on 5 February 2018
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