Examining What You Didn’t Know They Knew

“That awkward moment in an exam, when everyone is using a ruler to draw something and you don’t know why.” — Author Unknown

An exam is one of the more traditional ways to measure whether a student has met one or more learning objectives. These summative assessments typically use one or more question types (multiple choice, essay, matching, etc…), and they usually cover multiple class readings and learning modules. Naturally, because of this, it can be difficult to address all the content learned in a given period of time in a single exam. This poses a challenge for instructors who are tasked with creating the exam, as well as for students as they determine what content will potentially show up on it.

One simple way for an instructor to ascertain additional information that a student might have known on an exam is to allow learners the opportunity to demonstrate that knowledge in the form of a bonus question. For instance, below is a prompt I use on my own exams.

Bonus Question: Think about what we have covered since your last exam. In the space below, list up to three concepts you learned that did not appear on this exam, and briefly describe (2-3 sentences) its importance. Each concept and its description are worth two points for a maximum total of 6 bonus points.

This simple technique benefits both the student and the instructor. From the learner perspective, it provides a small reward for demonstrating an understanding of a concept covered in class that was not asked on the exam. As for the instructor, it can be sed as a tool for discovering trends about what students perceive to be the most important concepts covered. In turn, this can be used to adjust lessons and learning activities to ensure that the most salient concepts are covered adequately.

Scott D’Amico
Faculty Development Specialist
Alamo Colleges District