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October 10, 2007
Many students dread exams. Since exams tend to cover a lot of material are worth a lot of points, students worry that a small mistake or a "blackout" may cost them an "A" or "B" in your course. They also tend to cram before exams. A lot of the stuff they learn will be in their short-term memory, but they won't retain much after the exam.
Here's an idea to make exams less intimidating while improving learning:
Give the students an exam in several parts: some take-home, some in-class, some individual and some group. For example, you can split the exam in two parts: one part as individual take-home exam with fairly involved questions and one part in-class and in assigned groups of three. Students tend to learn a lot from the take-home exam and from each other during the group exam.
A variation is to have both parts, "the individual and the group part" in class (i.e., no take home exam). In that case, you could ask the same questions for both parts. This provides immediate feedback to the students. Due to the amount of time needed, this approach works best in long evening classes.
Another variation is to allow the students to pick questions. This approach helps reduce student anxiety and increase student performance. An example of this format is:
Varying your approach to exams will do much to alleviate student anxiety and enable them to better achieve the student learning objectives of your course.
(Source: Sonja Pippin, Dept. of Accounting & Information Systems)