Exam Wrappers

What is it?

Exam wrappers were introduced by Marsha Lovett (2013) in response to her STEM students’ poor study strategies and encourage them to critically evaluate their own their learning. Exam wrappers consist of a number of questions and activities that students engage in before and/or after they complete an exam which focus on their study strategies and help them learn from mistakes. They are most suitable for formative and summative mid-term exams but perhaps less so for end of module exams when feedback and grades might occur three to four weeks after the module has ended. They originate in Physics, Maths, Biology and Chemistry but can be used in all exams regardless of discipline or question type, with bespoke amendments.

Why would I use it? 

  • Exam wrappers help students practice metacognitive skills such as planning and evaluating performance. This is particularly useful for students who struggle with executive functions but benefits all students, as this is not a skill usually ‘taught’ on a module.
  • They allow assessment to become a learning tool in itself (Schmidt, 2016) by facilitating discussions of exam study strategies in class or with personal tutors/library advisors.
  • They allow students to see evidence of how strategies might have been more or less successful for them in the past and feedforward into changing behaviour based on past successes and failures. This is particularly useful for students from other educational cultures.
  • Conlon and Brewer (2018) found that students on a psychology course who completed the exam wrappers scored higher on the set exam than those who didn’t.

Known issues:

  • Students might not be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses in studying and may need help with this.
  • A poor result can be blamed on bad study habits when in fact something deeper is going on with the students’ understanding of the concept.
  • It is important to include a section on areas of the exam which require different skills so students can analyse their knowledge and application in relation to the module.
  • Research by Soicher and Gurung (2017) found no difference in either exam performance or scores in metacognitive tests.  Anecdotal teacher response is that this is because doing it once doesn’t really help and it should be part of a process of facilitating metacognition.

How has it been used? 

They are ideally used before and after an exam (a wrapper) but can be used only after the exam.

This short video gives an example of how exam wrappers have been used at the University of Illinois.

How can I use exam wrappers?