Explore Strategies - Enhancing Education - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students performed poorly on an exam.

Students don’t have enough time to thoughtfully complete the exam.

Students are not as familiar or facile with the material as we are, and need more time than we do to carefully read and think about the question and construct an answer or solution strategy.  Whereas we can quickly identify and classify questions, access the relevant knowledge and skills, and then accurately apply them to construct a solution, students may need more time to do each of these steps.


Ask your TAs or a grad student to time themselves as they take
the exam.

Ask students to track how long homework takes them.

Ask your TAs or a grad student to time themselves as they take
the exam.

A good heuristic is to at least double the time it takes you or a grad student to complete the exam and use that as an estimate for how long it will take students.  This estimate will vary depending on the year of the students, with freshmen taking as much as 3 or 4 times longer than you would to complete the exam. Also, if the exam contains a lot of textual material, remember that non-native English speakers will take longer to process the questions, as well as to formulate a written response.

Ask students to track how long homework takes them.

Collecting data on how long it takes students to complete homework problems or questions that are similar to those that will appear on the exam will help you determine appropriate exam length. If a learning goal is for students to be able to solve these problems quickly, then design homework that requires them to practice until they can solve the problems within time limits.  Alternatively, provide students with time guidelines for completing assignments and tell them to talk to you if they are taking considerably longer so that you can help them develop effective strategies for learning and engaging with the material.

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learning principles

  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>