Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Techniques for Improving Student Preparation for Examinations
Originator Chris Short
Department Countryside and Community Research Unit/School of Environment, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education
Tel. +44(0)1242 543319
Fax +44(0)1242 543273
Email chsort@chelt.ac.uk

The aim of this approach was to find ways of improving a student's preparation for and understanding of examinations and examination questions. The issue arose following a recognition across a wide range of modules that students appeared to be consistently unable to match marks achieved in coursework with those achieved through examinations. On speaking to students about this it appeared that two separate issues were central to this discrepancy. First, students indicated that lecture notes and associated material, and therefore implicitly the manner in which lectures were delivered, did not provide a sufficiently tangible link with the examination assessment. Second, the students felt inadequately prepared for the key processes of determining and delivering a response to the examination questions.

Two techniques were trialed on 10 students attending the Level II module 'Managing the Rural Environment'. First, in response to lack of a tangible link between lecture material and examinations an 'Additional Study' sheet was prepared for each session within the module. This contained the learning outcomes of that particular session, two pieces of additional study, relevant references and two previous examination questions which were related to the session. A copy of two example Additional Study sheets is held in the Appendix.

The second approach was to use previous examination questions (including those in the Additional Study sheet) as a means of recapping on either a particular session or a groups of sessions. At the end of the session the whole class would corporately decide what the focus of the question was before 'constructing' an ideal answer. As a result the students jointly determined what information was relevant and what was not relevant for a particular answer, a key skill in answering examination questions.

As a result of these strategies the profile of the examination was high throughout the module rather than being prioritised at the end of a module in the traditional 'how to survive an exam slot'. Nevertheless, the place of such an overview session for the module was still important as it included examples of previously highlighted approaches to answering examination questions.

A comparison of the 'results' over the first two years shows a substantial improvement in examination performance and in the perception of the students. In the year before these approaches were introduced one student out of 26 achieved a higher mark in the examination than the coursework. In the first year of the trails 70% of students achieved a higher mark in their examination. While the standard of the coursework over the two years was comparable to the previous year the overall attendance of the module was higher in the first year of the trial. However, this may in part be due to the introduction of these approaches.

According to comments from students on evaluation forms the Additional Study sheets provided a much improved link between lectures and the examination, particularly as an aid to revision. They compared their notes to the sheet and if the notes did not answer the example questions then they had some basis by which to rectifying the situation. However, although a few students indicated that they had prepared mock answers to the example examination questions none of them handed them in to be 'marked'. There was little if any tangible evidence that additional reading had taken place but implicitly it would appear that any reading that had occurred was more focused. Extra work for the lecturer is kept to a minimum as the Additional Sheets are a summary of the work to be presented in the lecture, together with suitable questions from past papers.

Keywords:

Examination preparation
Examinations
Independent study
Revision
Student handouts


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