Managing the First Exam

Most veteran professors would likely tell us that the first exam in their course makes a significant impact on the number of students who complete each section. In an age of increased accountability mandates to improve student retention and graduation rates, the more effective management of this critical milepost can have tremendous impact. Believing that each student about to complete their first course exam with a clear and accurate expectation of its content and format. Stated another way, there should be no significant surprises for a well-prepared student. Thus, the instructor should consider:

  • Develop the exam several weeks in advance, so in the sessions immediately prior to administering the exam, you can be assure to address all of its content;
  • Provide students a study guide of the concepts that will appear on the exam;
  • During the session immediately prior to the exam, conduct a thorough review. Consider also conducting an exercise that provides a sample of exam questions very similar to those that will appear on it;
  • During that same session, remind students of any supplies that would be required, as well as your procedure about storing their textbooks, book bags, etc. during the exam.
  • At the session during which the exam will be administered, arrive early to serve as a resource for those with a last minute question. Greet students if possible, and wish them well on the exam. Refrain from making statements about the ease or difficulty of the exam.
  • At the regular starting time, ask if there are any final questions, and answer them briefly without comments such as "you should have. . .";
  • Ensure students' desks are free of un-required materials, then distribute the exams;
  • nform students where to deliver their completed exams, and provide details about resuming or dismissing the class (with the request to leave the room quietly);
  • If any students are missing, position yourself next to the door for a few minutes to ensure late entries do not disturb the students being tested;
  • After scoring the exams, calculate the range and mean of the results, and if possible, an item analysis of questions missed;
  • In reviewing the exam results at the following meeting, consider holding on to the answer sheets until the questions are reviewed and discussed;
  • Following distribution of the scored answer sheets, write the ranked scores on the board, along with the mean score;
  • Since students are likely to have added your class late, not purchased the expensive textbook in a timely fashion, etc. you might consider offering students an option if grades were less than satisfactory. For example, if they choose to write "Plan B" on the answer sheet for the second exam, you might "drop" the first exam score, and weight the final score on the remaining graded items. So, if there are four scheduled exams, plus a paper, each weighted at 20% of the final grade, you might offer the individual option to assign a weight of 25% to each of the remaining items.

Students often have very legitimate reasons for not performing well on the first exam. It should not necessarily "dig them a hole" from which they are unable to rescue themselves.

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