Explore potential strategies.
Students lacked prerequisite knowledge and skills.
An exam can be particularly difficult for students if it requires them to draw on prior knowledge and skills from prerequisite courses. Even when students have completed these courses, there is no guarantee that they will have the knowledge and skills you expect or that they will be able to use the knowledge and skills in a different context. This reflects the different ways a prerequisite course can be taught over various semesters as well as how students come out of a given course with different levels of knowledge and skills.
Determine students’ level of prior knowledge and skills by administering a prior knowledge assessment early on in the course. This assessment can help you diagnose students’ understanding of and proficiency with the material you expect them to have, so that you can design your subsequent instruction and exams accordingly.
When the majority of your students lack sufficient understanding of a prerequisite topic, it is best to provide targeted remediation (e.g., spending class time on the topic, having your TA do a special session on the topic outside of class time, or suggesting reading material). Of course, the way you approach this remediation will depend on the resources you have available.
If only a few students lack sufficient prior knowledge, you can counsel them individually according to the nature of the gaps in their knowledge and skills. For example, if a student needs help in only a few areas, you can suggest tutoring help from Academic Development. If a student has deeper or broader gaps in knowledge and skills, you can mention the options of dropping or postponing your course (if possible), so that the student can do what it takes to fill those gaps.
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