Lyons: Follow Up the First Examination (TOTW #4)

Following Up The First Examination

Remembering that the first exam is the most significant retention milepost in most courses, it is critical to adopt a proactive posture toward managing its impact, both before and after its administration.

After scoring your examination, invest the time to analyze the results by listing the scores from high to low, calculating the average score, and determining the number of A’s, B’s, etc. If you gave an “objective” exam, i.e. multiple choice, true/false, matching, you should also calculate the number of times each question was “missed.” (Using Scantron systems enable you to do this instantly!) Doing so enables you to look at those missed by the overwhelming majority of students in a new light, and consider “tossing out” those whose wording was ineffective, or which were otherwise flawed. If the test results were especially disappointing and the anxiety among your students during the test was especially high, consider sending an email to students to reassure them that the situation will be dealt with positively at your next class meeting.

Besides lack of sufficient preparation, there are many reasons why students might not perform well on the first exam. Students may have added the class late, not been able to purchase their textbook early enough (a significant number of students say they cannot afford to buy textbooks), missed your in-class review session, or have other legitimate reasons. While it is critical to demonstrate sensitivity, you are also wise to reinforce high standards by avoiding “curving” the results, e.g. adding an arbitrary number of points to all students who completed the exam. Nonetheless, there are effective ways to achieve your desired objectives, while lessening the impact of poor exam results on student retention.

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