Setting Up Students to Succeed on Final Assessments

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Contributed by CTL staff

(2 minute read)

As we near the end of the term, it’s critical to prepare students to succeed on their final assessments by building in low-stakes opportunities for them to practice and receive feedback on the skills they will be asked to demonstrate. Too often, there is a disconnect between how we ask students to engage with course material during class time, and how we require them to engage with it on their assessments.  As James Lang explains in chapter 5 of Small Teaching, we frequently take the skills necessary for students to succeed on assessments for granted.  For instance, listening to lectures calls upon students to practice different skills than taking a multiple choice exam; similarly, engaging in a discussion does not allow students to exercise all the skills they need to write effective essays or deliver group presentations. 

Lang advises, “whatever cognitive skills you are seeking to instill in your students, and that you will be assessing for a grade, the students should have time to practice in class” (117). Giving your students the chance to practice these skills and receive feedback will result in stronger work. 

How can you incorporate skills-based practice opportunities into your course at this point in the semester?  First, identify the skills students need to succeed on your assessments.  Lang explains that leading a slide-based presentation, for instance, requires students, in addition to being familiar with the content, to:

  • Be able to explain the content to a specific audience
  • Represent content material onto slides (layout, use of graphics, etc.)
  • Balance their spoken words with the information on the slides
  • Pace their delivery so that the audience can absorb information

Then, create opportunities for students to receive targeted practice and feedback on those skills. Building in opportunities for students to practice in class will enable you to provide timely feedback and have everyone learn about what makes for effective work, even if they aren’t the person receiving feedback.  

Below are several strategies for in-class practice for common types of assessments.

  • Presentations: Have students create one slide on a concept they read about for homework.  Set aside 10 minutes of class time for volunteers to practice presenting for 2 minutes each.  Offer them feedback on their work.
  • Argument-driven essays: Have students practice formulating thesis statements, identify evidence that they could cite in support of their argument, and draft a paragraph integrating that evidence.  Alternatively, put students into pairs and have them develop arguments and counterarguments.
  • Multiple choice exams: If you are teaching remotely, use Zoom polls to practice multiple choice questions. If you are teaching in person, ask students to raise hands or use a program such as Poll Everywhere to respond to questions.  After students have a chance to answer individually, discuss possible answers as a group, and explain the correct answer. 

Also check out this previous post on how students can effectively offer feedback to their peers for more ways to build in opportunities for students to practice and receive feedback on their skills.  

Finally, incorporating low-stakes practice into your course won’t just benefit students; it will also allow you to gauge students’ progress towards learning outcomes before the end of the semester and adjust your instruction accordingly!

Lang, James M. (2016) Small Teaching. Jossey Bass.