This article provides and overview and evaluation of the evidence supporting the use of 'exam wrappers' (also called 'cognitive wrappers') as a means of enhancing pedagogical practices around assessments and practice assessments.
The exam wrapper (also termed cognitive wrapper) concept was first introduced in the article entitled “Post-test analysis: A tool for developing students’ metacognitive awareness and self‐regulation,” by Achacoso (2004). Since then they have been a frequently cited example of an effective metacognitive strategy.
Exam wrappers, put simply, are student reflection tasks that occur before and after assessments. Exam wrappers are short, reflective writing activities that ask students to review their revision strategies in relation to their performance on an assessment with a focus on regulating their future learning practices and setting appropriate targets accordingly. The foundation of the exam wrapper consists of the following 3 questions: (1) How did you prepare for the exam?, (2) What kinds of errors did you make on the exam?, and (3) What could you do differently next time? (Lovett 2013).
Exam Wrappers: What's The Evidence?
Gezer-Templeron et al (2017) conducted research into the impact of exam wrappers on a large Introductory Food Science and Human Nutrition Course and found a "modest relationship between use of study strategies and improved exam performance was observed, particularly for students with a B exam average, suggesting that students in the middle of the grade distribution may benefit most from this type of intervention." and found that "students expressed a belief that exam wrappers helped them improve their study habits and exam scores, and that they planned to use the exam wrapper process in future classes." concluding that "the exam wrapper is a valued and effective post-exam reflection tool for improving students’ self-reported study habits".
Chew et al (2017), whose research focused on students of engineering, found that wrappers had a significant impact on learning: "Quantitative findings highlight several bright spots demonstrating positive impact of wrappers while qualitative findings present a strong argument for the use of wrappers in teaching and learning." and also note that a key benefit from using exam wrappers is that they provide the teaching team with information about students’ understanding of content and level of skills so that appropriate measures, interventions and actions can be taken to help students who are struggling in the course.
More recently, LaCaille et al (2019) found that students who used the exam wrappers reported higher levels of metacognition, perceived learning competence and enjoyment with the course material. However, exam wrappers seemed only to have a small impact on final exam results, though their research was conducted in relation to an online course which may account for its reduced impact.
Additionally, in 2019, research on first year university students at Clemson University concluded that: "engagement with the exam wrapper activity contributes to students’ knowledge of how to effectively learn in STEM courses in addition to sharpening students' metacognitive processes." (Stephen et al. 2019) which coheres with the findings by Rosales et al (2019) who used cognitive wrappers as an intervention with students falling behind to conclude that "students [who has been using exam wrappers] were found to significantly outperform control students in the course overall, as well as on a common final exam question."
We are very intrigued to learn more about Havis' (2019) research into what he calls 'exam autopsies' which add an additional layer or peer-assessment to exam-wrappers meaning that students have access to self, teacher and peer feedback about their work.
There is fairly strong evidence for the efficacy of exam wrappers, especially at college and university level. More research needs to be done with younger learners before a solid evidence base for the efficacy of exam wrappers with this age group is securely established.
Initial research into post-16 learners suggests that exam wrappers are useful for both students and teachers: teachers and teaching assistants can gleam valuable insights about students' learning strategies and the obstacles they face from completed exam wrappers.
In our review or research we found that exam wrappers are sometimes used in different ways: we had always assumed that the term 'wrapper' implied that students engaged with the strategy both before and after taking the test. Some instructors, however, prefer using them as post-test reflection worksheets that already include a grade and teacher feedback so as to inform student reflection. Perhaps the ideal wrapper includes three stages of student engagement: before the test, immediately after the test, and then final reflections informed by the marked paper, grade and student-feedback are available.
You can download our set of high-quality exam wrappers here.
Achacoso MV. 2004. Post‐test analysis: a tool for developing students’ metacognitive awareness and self‐regulation. New Direct Teach Learning 2004(100):115–9. Chew, K. J., & Chen, H. L., & Rieken, B., & Turpin, A., & Sheppard, S. (2016, June), Improving Students’ Learning in Statics Skills: Using Homework and Exam Wrappers to Strengthen Self-regulated Learning Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25633
Gezer-Templeton, P.G., Mayhew, E.J., Korte, D.S. and Schmidt, S.J. (2017), Use of Exam Wrappers to Enhance Students’ Metacognitive Skills in a Large Introductory Food Science and Human Nutrition Course. Journal of Food Science Education, 16: 28-36.
Havis, L.R., 2019. The Exam Autopsy: An Integrated Post-Exam Assessment Model. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(1), p.4.
LaCaille, R. A., LaCaille, L., & Maslowski, A. (2019). The Effect of Exam and Quiz Wrappers on Metacognition, Learning Perceived Competence, and Course Performance in Online Undergraduate Psychology Courses. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.
Lovett Martha C. 2013. Make exams worth more than the grade. In: Kaplan M and others, editors. Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning: across the disciplines, across the academy. Sterling, Va.: Stylus Publishing. p 18–52.
Rosales, Edith, et al. "An Exam Wrapper Intervention in Organic Chemistry I: Impact on Course Performance and Study Behavior." Journal of College Science Teaching 49.2 (2019).
Stephen, Abigail T.; Whisler, Laurel; Stephan, Elizabeth A.; and Trogden, Bridget G., "Using Exam Wrappers in a Self-Directed First-Year Learning Strategies Course" (2019). Graduate Research and Discovery Symposium (GRADS). 296.