Exam Wrappers

An exam wrapper is a way for students to reflect on their experience on an exam. It is meant for learners to look again at the techniques they use to get ready for an exam, identify strategies they can use to prepare for later assessments, and consider how similar strategies might help them in their studies in and beyond your course.

Sometimes also called “exam debriefs,” these follow-up reflection activities are often called “exam wrappers” because they serve as a wrap-up for the work done on an exam. They’re also meant for students to further articulate context and relevance for what the exam covered—’wrapping’ some additional meaning around the work they’ve done.

Exam wrappers largely attempt to get at (and point students toward reflecting on) the following:

  • The amount of time and effort put into studying
  • Study habits used
  • Whether students engage with course objectives (especially to direct their studying)
  • Reasons students lose or believe they lose points (whether they missed foundational knowledge, made “silly mistakes,” environmental factors and distraction, etc.)
  • Possible interventions or adjustments

How you implement an exam wrapper is up to you. Some possible strategies include:

  • An exam wrapper counting for an improvement of one half letter grade (from BC to B, for example) on the exam.
  • Requiring students complete a wrapper to turn in alongside corrections for full or partial credit on missed questions.
  • Pairing an exam wrapper with instructor- or TA-led review sessions for later exams. Note: If you go this route, it’s still a good idea to have students complete the wrapper activity shortly after receiving feedback on the exam they’re reviewing so it and their study habits are fresh in their minds.
  • Offering the exam wrapper as ‘makeup’ work for one or more formative activities which led up to the exam.
  • Offering course-level extra credit.
  • Some combination of any or all of these!

As students complete the survey/worksheet, encourage them to think about their answers as they go. A few examples:

  • The question about techniques lists good techniques for studying. Could you adopt one or more of these?
  • There is a question about how you use the learning objectives in the course. You might not yet, but doing so is a good way to get to know why we are doing what we are in this course—including why exam questions are what they are.
  • You’re also asked why you think you lost points on the exam. For the more frequent reasons, what adjustments might you make to avoid these in the future? Do you need to study differently or maybe just slow down when taking the exam?

The last few questions in the examples provides below ask students to articulate responses to these sorts of reflections.

If you are interested in trying out an exam wrapper, you can take a look at an Example Exam Wrapper Assignment here. If you’d like a copy of the survey used in this example, you can download this Exam_Wrapper QSF File (Click to Download) and import it into your Qualtrics account (click for instructions). (Note: you do not want to re-use the link in the sample assignment since you will not be able to access the results.) The same assignment is available here in Word document format (Click to Download) if you prefer.

Additional examples of exam wrappers for various disciplines can be found on Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center page on Exam Wrappers.

For further reading, see:

  • Badir, A. et al. 2018. “Exam Wrappers, Reflection, and Student Performance in Engineering Mechanics.” 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30462
  • Gizem Gezer-Templeton, et al. 2017. “Use of Exam Wrappers to Enhance Students’ Metacognitive Skills in a Large Introductory Food Science and Human Nutrition Course.” Research in Food Science Education 16(1): 28-36. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4329.12103
  • Pate, A. et al. 2019. “The use of exam wrappers to promote metacognition.” Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning 11(5): 492-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2019.02.008