Help Students Help Themselves

Tests provide grades but can also be used for learning. A post-test review using metacognitive tasks can enhance students’ learning and retention through personal problem solving, i.e., they can teach students to think about their learning.

Metacognition is a form of self-reflection to discover how you learn, to create a better understanding. Having students review their incorrect answers and consider why they answered that way can help them find their own knowledge gaps, develop study strategies, correct missed information, and reinforce the right content.

Using an exam review early in a semester can help students identify and change study habits that are not useful, set goals, and develop confidence in learning. Exam review can also be used periodically throughout and at the end of a semester for students to measure their own progress in learning.

Early in the semester, following the first exam, have a discussion in class and ask the students:

  • What study techniques they used—alone, group, reread, flashcards, etc. Discovering what worked and what didn’t will help students develop self-reflection and creative problem-solving.  Having students commit to improving study habits by using different study methods is the beginning of personal goal setting.
  • What answers did you get wrong and why? Were the mistakes due to the type of questions, carelessness, unfamiliar material, or misinterpretation? What will you do differently to avoid these mistakes? These questions promote reflection and analytical thinking.
  • If they have suggestions on how to improve teaching this topic? Students will need to think carefully about improving the delivery of the topic material.  This is an opportunity for students to communicate effectively with faculty about these suggestions for improvement.

The goal of these activities is to have the students develop higher-order thinking using metacognitive tasks to become aware of their study habits, see the power in setting goals, and believe that they can succeed.