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Preparing for an Exam: A Study Game Plan

Assignments of Note

Preparing for an Exam: A Study Game Plan

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Prior to a scheduled exam, student prepare a study game plan. They describe how they would normally study for an exam in this course. Then they select two research-based study strategies, not regularly used, and agree to try them out as they prepare for the exam. (See the Resources section below for references to lists of strategies students might choose from.) They log their actual exam preparation activities. When they know their exam score, they assess the effectiveness of their study plan and implementation of it.

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Editor’s note: The following is part of an ongoing resource collection called Assignments of Note. For a related handout for students on study strategies, see here.

Brief description

Prior to a scheduled exam, students prepare a study game plan. They describe how they would normally study for an exam in this course. Then they select two research-based study strategies, not regularly used, and agree to try them out as they prepare for the exam. (See the Resources section below for references to lists of strategies students might choose from.) They log their actual exam preparation activities. When they know their exam score, they assess the effectiveness of their study plan and implementation of it.

Problems the assignment addresses

Learning skills the assignment promotes

Details and logistics

The assignment has four written components:

  1. Students describe how they would normally study for an exam in the course.
  2. Students devise a study game plan for the upcoming exam, knowing the number and type of exam questions and the content the exam will cover. Their plans should include a timeline that indicates what content, with what strategies, and when they will study, including two research-based study strategies that they do not normally use.
  3. Students log their actual study activities, noting when, what, for how long, and with which strategies they studied. Finally, when they are done studying, students predict their exam score.
  4. After receiving their graded exam, students assess the effectiveness of their study game plan, their implementation of it, and what, if they anything, they’ve learned from the experience about how they study, should study, or plan to study for the next exam.

The learning potential of this assignment is lost if students prepare the component parts all at once or after the exam. To prevent that and the management issues associated with having each part submitted individually, teachers share due dates for each component and then randomly select students to submit the component on the designated date. Once seen, those parts can be returned to the student and graded when the completed assignment is submitted.

The assignment parts can be detailed or streamlined. Even a very streamlined version will provide a more analysis of study events than most students typically complete. The assignment described here is similar to one Steiner (2016) developed and used in a first-year seminar course. In that course, students develop, implement, and assess a study plan they use to prepare for an exam in one of their other courses. A copy of the actual assignment is included in an appendix to Steiner’s article (previously discussed here):

Steiner, H. H., (2016). The strategy project: Promoting self-regulated learning through an authentic assignment. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 28(2), 271–282.

Another Assignment of Note, the post-exam review, offers a related experience in which students correct exam questions they missed and consider the effectiveness of the study strategies they used in light of their performance. Each of these assignments shares the same goals: helping students understand the implications of when, how, and what they study and then use that self-acquired knowledge to make better study choices.

Grading

The goals of the assignment cannot be achieved if students believe their grade depends on developing a wonderful study plan and then saying they did everything they’d planned to do. The criteria for grading must rest on the student’s attention to the details of the assignment and the thoroughness of their analysis, not what, how, or how much they studied.

The assignment could be an extra credit option with the justification being that the insights derived from the assignment are more likely if the student completes it with at least a modicum of interest in learning something about how they study.

Resources

At list of 16 study strategies (most of them research based) appears in

Andaya, G., Hrabak, V. D., Reyes, S. T., Diaz, R. E., & McDonald, K. K. (2017). Examining the effectiveness of a post exam review activity to promote self-regulation in introductory biology students. Journal of College Science Teaching, 46(4), 84–92.

Another, lengthy but well-organized article (previously discussed here) reviews research on 10 study strategies:

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266