When I left industry to be a teacher in the mid 1990s, I took a class on “mathematics teaching methods” at a local college. The instructor, now the Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Richard Evans to whom I owe much gratitude, taught that prior to an exam, one should give students a “study guide” or “review sheet.”
As most know, a study guide is a simple document that articulates what content you feel is important, describes what you will be assessing on the exam, and helps students focus their studying/review in the form of a checklist. When done right, the study guide is not “spoon feeding” nor teaching to a test, rather, a way of helping students define and prioritize what could be a seemingly boundless cloud of new material from the book, lectures notes, homework and other sources. It eliminates one of the causes of variance in exams scores—the students not knowing what’s covered.
Before every exam, I write about a page, usually in bullet form, which is posted on Blackboard. The last 10 minutes of the class prior to the exam is dedicated to discussing this guide.
I see the study guide as a contract that states the material to which I am committing on the exam, and from which I am not allowed to deviate too broadly when writing questions. For example, occasionally I write what I consider to be a “good” exam question that later must be vetoed upon consulting my study guide (“that just wouldn’t be fair”). From the students’ point of view, the study guide gives an opportunity to spend time preparing the “right stuff” and a chance to succeed on the exam. (Who doesn’t like to work hard and achieve something?)
With the students dialed in to what I want to assess on the exam, this permits me to write challenging (and often open-ended) questions that allow me to drill down to understand exactly what students do and do not know. But open-ended questions in assessment will be a topic for a future post.