Finishing well

Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, winner of the 2013 NYC Marathon, approaches the finish line. Photo by: Peter Miller (2013) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tips for concluding the semester

Approaching the end of the University semester can bring a heady mix of exhilaration, exhaustion, and relief – for both teachers and students. Before you put down your red pen and pour yourself a drink, here are a few tips that can help you maximise those last few weeks of semester.

Find ways of getting feedback…

The end of the semester is a chance to take stock of how the semester has gone. Have you tried something? Did it work? What would you do again and what would you turf? If there is something that needs improving – what is it and how would you do this? There are several ways that you can collect feedback:

Official university surveys

Surveys such as the FFT (Feedback for Teachers) and USS (Unit of Study Survey) are typically available for the last three weeks of semester. Data from these surveys is good for gauging student satisfaction and may be especially useful when wanting to make comparisons between different years, semesters, or cohorts. However, like all survey data, the better the response rate the more reliable the data is. Suggestions for improving your response rate might be to:

  • Set aside time in class for students to complete the survey
  • Explain the rationale for collecting this feedback. For students to bother filling out a survey they need to know that their feedback doesn’t just disappear into a black hole of University administration but is read and acted on by you, the lecturer. Be specific about why the survey is helpful to you and how you intend to use their feedback to make things better for subsequent semesters.
  • Demonstrate its impact. Show students how the course has been changed based on feedback from previous semesters. You can add your modifications to the subsequent UoS outline. Also let students know that they will get to find out the results of this survey. ‘Close the loop’ by making the results available to students and appending your Unit of Study co-ordinator comments to them.
  • Publicise the prizes. Did you know that each semester there is a survey prize draw for the Unit of Study Survey? These include: a MacBook Air, iPad mini and Apple Watch. Put pictures of these prizes on your PowerPoint and include the names of last semester’s winners. Amongst the student rumour mill is the belief that these survey prizes either don’t exist or are never awarded. Dispel this with up to date names of the winners which can be found here:
1st Prize Kevin Barker 13-inch MacBook Air
2nd Prize Soe Yan Kyi Ling iPad mini 4 Wi-Fi 64GB
3rd Prize Yufan Zheng Apple Watch Sport

Unofficial methods

A course is like a garden. Even once you have planned it and sown the seeds, it is subject to continual small pruning, tweaks, revisions and updates. Feedback is a standard part of this and does not need to be limited to official surveys or the end of semester. Though it is important not to over survey or screen students, embedding feedback (and your response to this) throughout the semester can help you to be more responsive to the needs of the various students in the cohort. Early and frequent feedback makes for easier troubleshooting.  If something is going wrong you can address it in a timely way. This is much better than having a nasty surprise in either student exam results and/or USS feedback. Some methods you may want to draw on are:

  • Socrative exit tickets: At the end of a lecture or tutorial Socrative allows you to ask which things worked and which could be improved.
  • Minute papers: Minute papers are one way you can find out what students found most significant or memorable in a class and what they are still struggling to understand.
  • Discussion boards: If you use a discussion board have a look for trends or patterns in what students are querying or questioning. You can also use the discussion board as a communication tool to ask students for what they want to revise in the final lecture or what they unsure about.
  • Past or previous assessment performance: Chances are you have marked assignments – lots and lots and lots of them. By now you may know where the common errors and pitfalls are. Alert students to these pitfalls before they submit their final paper or go into the final exam.
  • In-class contact: You talk to your students, your tutors talk to their students – spread across an entire teaching team, it generates a lot of feedback about the course. Use this. Respond to it.

Preparing for exams and final assessments

Exam Week (2006) by M. Green
CC BY-NC 2.0

Exams are stressful. This may be even more so for first year students who may be experiencing taking a certain style of exam for the first time. Added to this are other factors; multiple choice questions may be unfamiliar to students from some cultures and backgrounds, while different levels of English language proficiency may make it faster or slower for a student of similar disciplinary expertise to get through an exam paper.  Revision lectures that attempt to cram 12 weeks of semester into one are generally ineffective. Instead of doing this, here are some excellent tips and suggestions from the First Year Coordinators’ program to help your students prepare for exams. Though not all may work in your subject, the list will hopefully trigger some ideas:

  • Highlight the variety of responses to a single question (by eliciting a range of answers from the class).
  • Help students who have English as a second language by giving them a list of difficult words that may be in an exam.
  • Write less wordy exam questions.
  • See each student for 5-10 minutes if they bring a sample of work or a question.
  • Demonstrate how you would mark a piece of student work in front of the students. Use a highlighter and red pen. If you have a rubric then use this too.
  • Conduct a live chat about exam questions.
  • Give students practice exam questions throughout the semester for each topic.
  • Provide the case material in advance (but not the actual exam question). This can be useful for students from overseas when you aim to assess disciplinary knowledge as opposed to reading speed.
  • Do a practice exam beforehand.
  • Give students the whole bank of MCQs and tell them that any of those questions can be on the final paper.
  • Get students to play the marker and do either peer or self assessment. What mark would they give this example paper?
  • Remind students of the non-subject stuff that gets you through exams: oral presentation skills, backing up data, having an early night and taking a deep breath when it all gets overwhelming.
  • Give critique and feedback throughout semester when students are working on project or creative works.


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