Explore Strategies - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students complain the exams are too hard.

Students spent time poorly during the exam.

Even if the exam was calibrated at the right length, some students might have misused their time. Maybe they did not recognize the relative importance of different questions and spent too much time on questions that appeared early on the exam or were not worth many points. This is simply another manifestation of some students’ general difficulty with planning an effective approach to a specific task. Unless learning to recognize the more involved questions is a learning objective for your course, the assessment of students’ performance will not be accurate in this situation.

Strategies:

Give students information on the exam format ahead of time.

Give points or percentage weights to each question on the exam.

Help students budget their time during the exam.

Refer students to Academic Development.

Give students information on the exam format ahead of time.

Let students know whether the exam will be true/false questions, multiple choice, short essays, or whatever other format or combination of formats. Some instructors also use the front page of the exam as a table of contents, letting students know how many questions of each kind appear on the exam. Another way to familiarize the students with the format of the exam is to provide a sample exam ahead of time.

Give points or percentage weights to each question on the exam.

This will communicate the relative importance and difficulty of each question and will help students allocate effort. Some instructors even give separate points for different parts of individual questions.

Help students budget their time during the exam.

Some professors give students a time check at the halfway point or assign a TA to keep track of time on the board in increments of five or ten minutes. This strategy is helpful unless part of your approach is to make students responsible for budgeting their own time, in which case you might simply warn them in advance to come to the exam with a strategy that will allow them to be time efficient, such as checking their progress at regular intervals during the exam and comparing against the time they have left.

Refer students to Academic Development.

Academic Development regularly holds workshops on test-taking skills, which include tips on budgeting time. They also work with students individually to help them develop this skill.

This site supplements our 1-on-1 teaching consultations.
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  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. MORE >
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. MORE >
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. MORE >
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. MORE >
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning. MORE >
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning. MORE >
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning. MORE >

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