exam review sessions?

Does anyone have a strategy for exam reviews that aren’t tedious (for both the leader and students) and that don’t devolve into spoon-feeding of the material (or lead to frustration among students if they don’t)?

While I know they’re not necessary, I like the potential collaborative nature of the sessions and the opportunity for students to get more actively engaged in exam prep. With those benefits in mind, I used to offer exam reviews in the dining hall over dinner, inviting students to drop by to talk to me (and one another) about questions they had. This was not only wildly popular with students, but really effective.

Unfortunately, with my current class size, a similar review strategy was impossible this fall so we booked a room and held a traditional review session, led by my teaching assistant. According to account of the evening, it was a tedious, frustrating disaster, where the teaching assistant basically rehashed the material because students wouldn’t ask questions or answer them.

Is it futile to try to capture the same feeling – and the same results – from my dining hall reviews in a different setting? How can professors who choose to hold review sessions make them effective ones?

(as an aside, I know there’s an interesting “Jeopardy” review idea in Teaching Sociology but that’s not quite what I’m looking for, particularly given the nature of my exams and trying to get students to focus on the big picture rather than minute details of the material we cover)

6 thoughts on “exam review sessions?”

  1. I hold it during a regular class period. I take half a dozen questions or issues and the beginning, and then I rehash them for the hour.

    I have up trying to get good, interpretive or synthetic questions. At least since all the slides are online already, it’s not just people asking to hear lectures they missed; it’s usually things they didn’t quite get.

    So, my strategy is to lower expectations. They seem pretty popular — most people attend and stay even though they could take the day off.


    1. My slides are online, too, which does seem to qualitatively change the questions asked (of course, like you say, not by enhancing quality).

      I was surprised that 75% of students showed up to the off-hour exam review. I’d bet the attendance would be even better if it was during class time.


  2. i’ve played with refusing to rehash unless they have questions, and even then trying to facilitate a discussion rather than me just rehashing. but that’s a struggle. i like the dining hall solution a lot – thanks!


    1. The dining hall drop-in approach is great for a heavily residential campus. My school even offers free meals for meetings with students like that, so it’s worth asking if others would foot the bill too.

      Some students come by for the whole time, others just drop briefly by with questions. Whether they eat at your table or not seems to vary from class to class. :) Good luck if you try it!


  3. One simple way to do this in a big class is to require that at least one student attempt to answer the question before you say anything. Sometimes, you get a number of students providing their own answers to a single question, and you don’t have to say much at all because each answer illuminates a different aspect of the question/concept/theory.

    Added to this, you can require that the first 15 minutes or so be devoted to students talking to each other in small groups. Each student in the group says poses one question that they want to ask, and the group prioritizes what questions they want to hear answered the most. In the process of doing this, students work out answers to the easy questions among themselves, and you have the harder ones left.

    Either alone or together, it’s a more interactive environment rather than a passive one for students. And there’s no excuse for students not to ask questions or answer questions if you tell them the rules the day before the review session.


  4. I play “exam review jeopardy” and make a game show out of it. divide the students into teams, then give them answers (like definitions or examples of concepts) and have them come up with the questions.


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