What is often the first thing students do when receiving a freshly evaluated assessment? They flip through the booklet—pages brimming with a wealth of feedback—only to land on the final page for their grade. This is all too often the extent to which students will interact with the returned assessment, much to the chagrin of professors and teaching assistants.

Fortunately, educators at Carnegie Mellon University have developed the concept of exam wrappers, a pedagogical exercise encouraging students to delve into their feedback, reflect upon their performance, and learn from the experience.

Exam wrappers are exercises in which students reflect upon their performance and goals through multiple choice, short answer, or essay questions. While the wrappers may be customized for specific classes or assessments, they are generally administered in the following method:

  • Return assessments along with a brief handout
  • Provide class time for students to review their performance and complete the exam wrapper
  • Collect the exam wrappers and use their insights to improve classroom lectures and activities
  • Return the exam wrappers before the next assessment

Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center offers several exam wrapper templates for use in a number of academic disciplines including physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics.

Exam wrappers offer myriad benefits for both students and instructors. In students, they cultivate and foster metacognitive behaviours such as analyzing, monitoring, and regulating their learning processes—essential skills which will serve them in both their academic and professional careers. For instructors, they ensure students are absorbing and learning from their feedback while also providing valuable pedagogical insights to improve the classroom.

Consider using an exam wrapper for your next homework assignment or examination. The risks are minimal, and while it may involve some extra time on the part of you or your teaching assistants, it will ensure that your students reflect and learn from their assessments.

Read more:

  • Exam Wrappers
  • Knowing Thyself Gets a Hand from Exam Wrappers
  • Lovett, M.C. (2013) Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition. In Kaplan, M., Silver, N, Lavaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D.’s Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA., pp. 18-52.

About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.