An Effective Review Session (without Teaching to the Test)

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Categories: GSI Online LibraryTeaching Effectiveness Award Essays

by Stacy Jackson, Energy & Resources Group

Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2011

Nearly everyone has attended review sessions that provided a big boost in preparation (“thank goodness I went!”) and sessions that were a huge waste of time (“imagine how much better I would have done on the exam if I’d used those two hours to study!”). All of us hope to deliver the “big boost” session, but common challenges are 1) how to condense a half-term or full-term of material into 1.5 to 2 hours, and 2) how to provide effective preparation without teaching to the test, especially in the common situation of having seen the exam in advance.

In my GSI role for ER 101, I shared those challenges and had full responsibility for providing the midterm review. I was familiar with the exam and knew that it would draw heavily on what students had learned in lecture, with a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions.

The key to the success of the review session was entrusting the lecture review to the students. A few days before the review session, I let students know the agenda and asked them to sign up on an online spreadsheet for a lecture that they would feel comfortable presenting. It would be their responsibility to summarize the top two or three points from that lecture both on the board and verbally to their classmates. Pre-assignment helped things go smoothly; ten volunteered, five were cold-called. On the evening of the review session I divided the board into five sections, and asked five students at a time to come to the board to write their key points and speak for one to two minutes each in chronological order of the lectures. At the end of each group of presentations, I provided clarifying comments and answered questions. I also had time to answer questions and provide study tips while each group was writing on the board. We did this three times, with fifteen members of the 43-person class presenting. The lecture review took about 1.5 hours, and I led discussion for the remaining 30 minutes on problem-solving and Q&A.

The format eliminated the issue of “teaching to the test” since the students themselves chose the key points; increased student engagement with the material; appealed to multiple learning styles; and made concept retention more likely due to the variety of presentations. Roughly 90% of the enrolled students attended the review session, and nearly all stayed for the full two hours. On the teaching evaluation, 77% of students rated the “usefulness of lecture review” as a 4 or 5 (5 high). In open-ended remarks one student said, “My favorite outside-class meeting was the midterm review session. The layout was great, and it really helped me identify the key points of each lecture.” Exam results were consistent with the review session feedback: the professor was pleased with the students’ performance on a difficult exam.