Weekly Teaching Note
Mar 07 2012
Motivating Students to Improve Study Habits

I teach a 100-level course that many students do not look forward to taking. It is an introduction to both chemistry and physics and is a requirement for some non-science majors. Most of my students are freshmen or sophomores, many of whom are weak in science and math and therefore are anxious about this class. Compounding their weaknesses in math and science, some students do not have effective study habits, frequently do not do the homework and practice problems, and do not seek free tutoring assistance or extra help from me. As a result, a number of students do not do as well on the first test as they would like.

To encourage students to study more diligently during the remainder of the semester, I now make the following offer after returning the first test. I tell students that I will drop their first test score if their scores on all three of the remaining tests are higher than the first test. I carefully point out that I will not drop the lowest of the four tests grades – only the first grade if the remaining three test scores are higher than the first. Most students appreciate this offer and usually put more effort into studying during the rest of the semester.
Having offered a lifeline to those students who did poorly on the first test, I also want to recognize/reward those students who had studied diligently from the start of the semester and did well on the first test. If a student gets a 92 on the first test, it might be difficult to do better on all of the remaining three tests. Therefore, I also tell the class that for any student who had an 85 or higher on the first test, I will drop the lowest of the four test scores when calculating their final course grade. So far, I have not had any of these diligent and motivated students purposefully “bomb” one of the three remaining tests knowing that it will be dropped.
If a poor score on the first test is a wake-up call for some students, this offer to delete the first score provides them a path forward to a better course grade and motivation to study more diligently and seek help if needed. In addition, students who are doing well are recognized and not left out. This offer is not successful in waking up all the students who scored poorly on the first test, but it does have a positive impact on most of them.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Ernest C. Linsay
Director, Faculty Development & Support
Wilmington University, Delaware
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