Midterm examinations are upon us here in the United States. My classes have their midterms this week. Since the exams are cumulative, we’ve been reviewing everything that we’ve studied so far this semester.
I have a different method of review for each class – my grammar class’s review looks nothing like the review we do in my speaking class – but I always try to consider a few key principles.
1. Give them the Overview
What’s on the test?
You can avoid this inevitable question by giving students a list of topics and page numbers. If the test is cumulative and it doesn’t leave anything out, your answer could be “everything we’ve studied.” Even if that’s true, it helps to have a summarized list of what you’ve done.
The list can be helpful when planning both class and individual reviews. For my grammar class, I put all the topics that we’ve covered on a half sheet of paper and handed it out to my students. The first review task I assigned my students was to find the three topics that were the most difficult for them. I gave them a few minutes to look over the list and then I got their answers, which helped me decide what I was going to spend more class time on during the next class.=
2. Assess Weak Spots
Your students’ self-diagnoses will be useful, but you should also have some other data. You’ve probably given quizzes or tests already, or at least some kinds of assignments. Check your grade book to see which topics gave your students the most problems. This is another great way to see what you should cover during your review.
You can also remind your students to look through their quiz scores and self-diagnose. When students ask me what they should study for the final, I ask them a question right back: “Well, which quiz did you get the lowest score on? Study that topic.”
3. Practice with Similar Questions
Once you get to the actual review, you want to choose activities that are similar to the type of thing the students are going to see on the exam. Obviously you won’t want to give them the exact same questions, but make them look the same. For example, if you’re giving a test that is all multiple-choice, your review shouldn’t be completely focused on writing paragraphs.
Maybe you have had teachers who completely switched up the type of questions on a big exam. I know I have. There was nearly a riot. People don’t like to be confused or surprised in a high stakes situation.
Making the test question types as familiar as possible also lessens test anxiety and hopefully gives more accurate assessments of student ability.
4. Study Individually, in Small Groups, and as a Class
Try to come at the review from different angles.
Ask students to think about which topics are difficult for them, but also follow up with suggestions for how they can work on those topics. Give them the page numbers in the textbook, online resources, or extra worksheets. Good students will study for the test on their own if they have the resources.
In class, put students in small groups. In the past few days, I’ve been watching lots of teaching going on. I love when my students do my job for me. When a group is focused on completing a review assignment together, there are plenty of chances for interactions like this:
Student A: What is parallelism?
Student B: Remember? It’s when all the parts of speech are the same.
But of course, you’ll need to earn your money too. Call on students and check answers as a class, pointing out common errors. If those errors are made persistently, give a mini-lectures about it. At the end of a review class, ask the students if they still have any questions about topics that are going to be on the test.
5. Motivate and Encourage
A day or two of review are mainly to remind students what they should study. By the time of the big test, they’ve either been working hard or they haven’t. A quick review won’t teach them everything they need to know or save a student who has been sleeping through the semester. But for those students who have worked hard and just don’t test well, doing well on a review session is a great confidence booster.
As a teacher, you should be pointing out weak spots so that students can study and improve upon them. But you also want to point out what they do well in a review. When your whole class gets through a review of an entire topic without a mistake, let them know how awesome they are.
Ready or Not, Here We Go!
People almost always do better during a big event if they do a run-through first. Review sessions are just a way to give your students that opportunity. No matter what class you’re teaching or what kind of test you’re giving, try to use review sessions. Your students will thank you.
Thanks for reading.