Study Guides

Do you, folks, give students study guides before exams? I always do and students love them.

My study guides look exactly the same as my final exams, and we dedicate the last day of class to doing them together. I like to have a variety of activities on my finals. For instance, the most recent one had questions with short 1-2 sentence answers, an essay-type question, definitions, and true and false. (The latter being invariably the hardest activity of all).

When I create the final, I open two windows side by side and make two identical-looking exams, one of which is a study guide. I do this for every exam and in every course, even those with 65+ students. (Everybody else does multiple choice but I’m like that German POW in the probably apocryphal Soviet story who was asked why he works so hard in a Soviet prison camp when he isn’t getting paid and he said, “It’s because I want to remain a German”).

I don’t believe in final exams and only hold them when the university regulations force me to (which is in 90% of all the courses I teach.) But if I have to hold them, I make an effort to turn them into useful activities with minimal stress.

It’s funny because I don’t give a crap about teaching (i.e. the kind of teaching that I’m forced to do) but I don’t cut corners unlike people who do nothing but teach.


5 thoughts on “Study Guides”

  1. In my case, I give exercices to my students to prepare for the exams, so I don’t have to give them a study guide: exercises (and in my last course, the last 4% quiz) are the study guide. However, the week before the exam, I give them all the exam structure: number of questions, points allocation, type of questions, chapters covered by each question.


  2. If you want to boost your students’ confidence before the exams, tell them to go to the website and select one of the “If You Can Pass This Test, Your I.Q. Is 140” sponsored-content clicks.

    These tests show a picture and give two multiple-choice answers to select from.

    Sample questions: “This 17oo’s political figure is A. Thomas Jefferson B. Betsy Ross.”
    “The animal shown above is A. a giraffe B. a rattlesnake.”

    Think most of your students could pass those tests?


  3. I do actually like cumulative finals but don’t find them useful now that students have had to be prepared for so many final exams since such young ages. They have had so many years of coaching in how to second-guess tests that they can’t take one for real. There is no way to combat this that I have found although I am working on a new exam format, for one course, that might do it.

    I used to give out, for advanced classes, a format with a lot of sample questions. “Of this group, 6 of these 12 will appear and you will respond to 4; of this group, 3 of these 4 and you will choose 2; etc.” I used not to give one out for less advanced classes, because I wanted them to look at old exams and homework exercises since that was where the final was coming from, and really feel / felt that an important part of studying was creating one’s own guide based on these things. Years ago I gave a take-home, practice final that we’d go over in class but that worked because students were not so heavily educated to second-guess exams, so an exam, that you practiced for, was a good learning exercise. Again, I just don’t feel they are any more; the testing-company regime and NCLB have ruined exams and I really find students get more out of doing other things.


  4. I am way late to the comments here, but since this is a rare instance in which we agree on language teaching I thought I would mention that not only do I do the same thing, I give the students five points extra credit on their final if they complete the practice exam 🙂


    1. Actually, I think we never disagreed on the mechanics of language teaching. We are all trained in the same way and it’s a really great one, I believe.


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