An earlier tip emphasized the increasing need for professors to improve retention
of students throughout the term, and provided guidelines for managing the first
milepost, i.e. the first class meeting. Most veteran instructors would agree that
the second significant -- and perhaps even more impactful -- milepost is the first
examination. It is not uncommon for the first exam to trigger a withdrawal of
20-25% of students! Therefore it is critical to manage this milepost effectively.
Following are some simple guidelines:
- 1. Prepare the exam several weeks in advance. Before concluding each class
meeting, check yourself to see that the test items from the material covered has
been adequately addressed. If not, quiz students to see that most understand.
- Think about providing students a study guide for the exam, which needs to
be no more than a simple listing of concepts that will be included on the exam.
Most effective teachers believe students should perceive few, if any surprises
on an exam - eliminating the "gotcha!" that many of us can remember from our student
days. Study guides are especially valuable to working students, or others unable
to attend all class meetings, and foster individual responsibility for success.
- At the close of the session prior to the test's administration, provide a
thorough review of the exam - its content, approach, format, and scoring weights.
If your first exam is primarily multiple-choice, consider conducting a five-item
exercise whose questions are very similar to actual exam questions. If your exam
includes essay questions, be sure to provide a scoring "rubric" that addresses
the approach and content you would expect an excellent response to include.
- Encourage students to email you during the week prior to the exam to clarify
any questions that might occur during their study. Should issues arise that indicate
callers - often your most motivated students - are unclear about test items, email
all class members with clarification. Besides providing clarifying information,
such communications also indicate that you are "on their side" during this often
frustrating, isolating experience.
- Encourage students to seek out peers within the class - whom they've gotten
to know through your icebreaker and other interactive opportunities - to form
study groups. Should personal meetings be impossible, telephone or email discussions
are often helpful substitutes.
- Lastly, arrive a half-hour or so prior to the administration of the first
exam. If several students show up for help, be sure to spread your time as equitably
as possible among all.
Chapter 10 of The Adjunct Professor's Guide to Success contains additional
material on the strengths and weaknesses of various test formats, practice test
construction exercises, and additional tips.
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