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College Success Resources for Faculty: I Have a Student Who Has Failed the First Test

I Have a Student Who Has Failed the First Test

Students fail exams for many reasons. Some may not know what to expect on exams. Others, without realizing it, make poor study choices.

What Can You Do?

The only academic experience on which many of our students can reflect is high school. They often assume that what worked for them in high school will work for them here. Here are some common but dangerous academic assumptions students make:

     My professor lectures out of the book, so I don't need to read the book if I go to class.
     I don't need to begin studying for an exam until the day before.
     I could study for an hour a day in high school. Two hours a day should suffice in college.

After a poor first exam, consider re-stating your expectations about studying and test preparation. Point out to students that, even though the next test might be a month away, they should begin studying now. If you feel your students would be receptive to it, you can explain that studying for a test is not unlike preparing for a sports event. Athletes practice everyday, weeks before the first game. If they practiced only the night or two before a game, they would expect to lose. The process of winning the championship begins the first day of practice. Likewise, studying for mid-terms begins the first day of class; students need to study daily to be "in shape" for the test. (The same analogy works for the performing arts, as well.)

In order to make it more likely students will study properly for exams, consider the following options:

  • Have an early exam. If students perform poorly on an exam during the third week, they have time to turn themselves around and correct poor study habits than if the first exam happens in the eighth week.
  • Consider taking class time to have students list the skills, procedures, terms, graphs or concepts they must master for an exam. Do so a couple weeks before the exam. It may become clear to you that students are relying on inappropriate study techniques, or that they have an inaccurate perception of how the test will be structured. If this is the case, you will have time to address it.
  • If you pass out a study guide, do it early. Many students, particularly those who struggle, wait until they have a study guide before they begin exam preparation. They don't realize that most faculty see a study guide as more of a checklist; they hope students will peruse the study guide and realize they are already familiar with the terms and concepts that appear there.
Remind students that they need to practice at home what they will have to do on the test. In other words, if you are giving an essay test, they better write essays when they study. Encourage them to brainstorm what kinds of questions you will ask. If your class features problem solving (math, sciences) encourage students to analyze how they study. Often, when students do homework, they rely on friends, notes or books to complete problems. Even though students may complete homework, they may or may not truly understand concepts. For many of these students, the first time they put themselves in the position of working problems with no help is during the exam. Remind students that they have to practice completing problems with no outside help of any kind if they expect success on the exam.

Refer students to the "Test Taking" link on the first page of our College Success website.