The Coolest Exam Review Game in the Universe? – Trevor Holmes

So for the past century or so, I’ve used variations on a review game when it’s time for students to think back across an entire course. It works for large introductory courses, medium-sized advanced courses, even PhD comprehensive exams! Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Before you think I’m selling the academic term-end equivalent of snake oil, I implore you, gentle reader, to download our latest Tip Sheet; it describes the game in its simplest form. While it’s too late in the term to ask students to come up with key terms (ideally week 10 is a good time to start), there is still value in trying the game in the last class, or recommending it to students for post-class, pre-exam study groups.

Slips of paper
Slips of paper

Essentially, you throw all the key terms (one term per slip of paper) from the course into a hat, or other suitable container. In small groups, students draw three terms and have two minutes to explain how the terms relate (or, how they couldn’t possibly relate, in some cases). People from all disciplines have adapted this game (and of course many have come up with similar games independently). For some, having a theory hat and an application hat from which one draws first two then one, respectively, will work best for the type of exam students will encounter. For others, you may wish to have three envelopes (idea, action, object, for example) and the group draws one from each envelope. The reasons it seems to work:

  • The time limit forces a flexibility of thought and pressure to perform similar to exam pressure (but without the risk of failing)
  • The randomization of terms forces brain-flexing the same way that some exams will
  • People need to define the terms in order to relate them, and in so doing realize they DO know stuff (confidence-builder)
  • People find out what they do NOT know and should therefore study more (and more efficiently — see last bullet)
  • Synthesis is encouraged across the course or between units

Although the game arose in a Shakespeare course (Peter Paolucci taught it to us as a gaggle of fresh-faced Teaching Assistants in 1994 at York University — it was called Shakespeare Salad at that time), I must say that over the years I’ve workshopped it at numerous universities and several conferences, and it seems infinitely adaptable.

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

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