The EEF toolkit states that developing metacognitive and self-regulation in students potentially adds 7 months additional progress to students’ outcomes. As well as having a whole guidance report focusing on metacognition, this theme also features in a number of their phase or subject specific guidance reports. Within the Improving Secondary Science report, recommendation 2 states:
Exam wrappers are one way you can do this. These are a resource that get students to complete a structured reflection and helps them to develop themselves as a learner.
There are two key parts the an exam wrapper, the first helps students review the subject content. This typically is in some sort of WWW EBI format. The second part focuses on skills. A large part of metacognition is for students to have a thorough understanding of the strategies and skills they have available to them and when and where they are applied best. The skills part of the exam wrapper is designed to help students build this understanding.
Here is an example of one of the first exam wrappers I created. It was inspired from a few examples that I had seen online:
I have since adapted this to remove all of the extraneous load that was provided by the pictures etc. I found that students were less independent when completeing the original documents and their answers weren’t that thorough. Here is an example of the new one:
The first part requires students to work through their exam and review their performance on the different topics. To help structure this, we sometimes put the question numbers next to the topics to help students complete this task. At KS4 I also add calculations and RPS skills to the topic lists so that they can really differentiate between the scores in the subject content and the specific skills. Having it structured in this way also stops students from just writing ‘everything’ next to an EBI. The added structure here makes the process a lot more straight forward for them.
The next part needs students to review which topics are areas for improvement, it also asks them to indicate whether these topics are new (ie from the topic that was just taught) or whether they are older topics (ie from previous topics taught or ideas from the previous years). Self-regulated students also have a good understanding of their strengths and weaknesses with regards to subject content. This means that they can start to think about what strategies they have available to them to improve their weaknesses. By getting students to identify whether the content is old or not means that they can be guided through evaluating what they did to review older material and start to think about how they can adapt future practice. In reality, many students will not have revised content from last term or last year. So this process also shows that there is an expectation that they do do this and that it is an important process.
After this they then need to review skills, both subject specific ones and exam technique. Common answers here will be things like ‘not following the numeracy protocol’ which is something that we use in the department to make sure that students are approaching calculations correctly and can confidently rearrange equations without triangles. Other examples might be that they have not used data from a question in their answer and they missed the prompt in the question suggesting that they needed too. This part provides a good point for staff to model how to answer specific questions or demonstrate how to do specific skills and then students can reflect on any improvements they need to make.
The next part is getting students to review what they did in preparation for the test. The idea of this part is so that students can start to think about the strategies they have available to them and evaluate how effective they were in relation to the assessment they did. At the start of the year I give all my students the ‘How to revise for science sheet’. Therefore when we complete this part of the wrapper I get them to use this sheet to help them with the analysis. It’s important that they can see why different strategies work for them and which strategies are best for the different demands of the course. Of course some students will not have completed any revision. This part then shows them the strategies they have available to them to prepare for the next assessment.
Finally students then need to create a next steps list. I always say to my students that this needs to be like a to-do list. They will usually go straight ahead and write ‘revise more’ or ‘read my textbook’. These are not helpful to them and do not address their areas of weakness. Therefore I get them to link an area of weakness to a strategy that they have available to them. For example ‘self-quiz the definitions for organelles from my knowledge organiser’ or ‘create a flow diagram to summarise the method for the Ohms Law RPA and then self-quiz it’. This part also helps those students who did not revise originally as it is then clear for them to see what they have to do next time. Although there will always be students who just choose to not put the effort into exam prep, many don’t do it because they feel over whelmed and not sure where to start or know what to do. Having this next steps list takes the thought out of it and makes everything very explicit. The final thing that we do is related to the next assessment. When we are approaching the next assessment, I get students to turn back to review their last exam wrapper. This is so that they have their strengths and weaknesses at the forefront of their mind when they are entering the new revision period as well as making sure that they actually complete their next steps to-do list.
As with everything, exam wrappers take time. At first they will need to be very structured. They will require a lot of teacher input and a large amount of modelling. However over time students will become more independent and then start to naturally go through this review process. It is also incredibly worth while to devote the lesson time to get the students to complete these properly. They are an effective way to start developing metacognitive skills in students.
If you would like to read more, I wrote an article for Education in Chemistry exploring exam wrappers and other strategies that bring the evidence from the Improving Secondary Science GR to life for the classroom.