Two Pills Tips: Exam Wrappers!

Using post-exam reflection to improve test-taking, test-writing, and more!

Exam Wrappers aka Error Analysis Exercises


Why: When students receive back a graded exam, they often focus on the single number/grade earned. While this focus is understandable, it can lead students to miss out on learning opportunities:

  • identifying their own individual areas of strength and weakness to guide further study;

  • reflecting on their preparation time and study strategies;

  • characterizing the nature of their mistakes to find any recurring patterns that could be addressed.

What: short handouts that students complete when an exam is returned to them. These exam wrappers direct students to review their performance and adapt their future studying. These exam wrappers may be the answer for students who need direction to help them improve their exam scores but aren’t sure where to start. 3 main questions to ask:

  • study skills used to prepare;

  • types of mistakes they made on the exam; and

  • what modifications might improve their performance on the next test.

We’ll break down the purpose of each question.

Question 1: Study skills used to prepare

Allows for reflection on what the student did right while studying and what they can improve on for next time. For example, if they write down that they crammed for the test, studied minimally, or studied concepts but not more specific problems, for example, they will begin to associate this method of studying with their presumably lower test grade. Alternatively, good study practices will support a higher test grade and let the student know they are studying optimally.

Question 2: Types of mistakes made on the exam

Self-analysis of which problems they answered incorrectly. Do they notice a trend with a certain concept or type of problem? Are any of the problems they had trouble with due to a possible lack of/inefficient method of studying? If so, they can look back to Question 1 and see where they might have fallen short in their studying habits (or lack thereof).

Question 3: Changes to improve performance on the next exam

Possible connections between how they study and what they had trouble with. If, through the prior two questions, they have found a trend (such as not studying a concept enough and subsequently missing most problems related to that concept on the test), the student knows how to direct their studying for the next exam.


  • Students prepare for and take the exam using their typical study strategies.

  • Instructors hand out the exam wrappers alongside the exam results and class time (probably only approximately 10 minutes) is devoted to filling them out.

  • The instructor collects the exam wrappers. This step is necessary for a variety of reasons: if the instructor is making them an assignment, he/she needs to keep track of who has completed them. Additionally, collecting them and analyzing the students’ responses gives the instructional team a sense of strengths and weaknesses. To me, collection of the exam wrappers may depend on the class size and setting.

  • At the time when students should begin studying for the next exam, the instructor returns the completed exam wrappers (from the previous exam) to students so they can revisit their responses. Another option is to give students a few minutes to reread their exam wrappers and then take a few minutes for students to share effective study strategies.


Sample questions for an exam wrapper:

  1. Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for this exam? ______ What percentage of your test-preparation was spent in each of these activities? (reading text for first time, re-reading textbook, reviewing homework, practice problems, reviewing notes, reviewing recommended materials)

  2. Follow up: which of these strategies did you find most helpful?

  3. Now that you have looked over your graded exam, estimate the percentage of points you lost due to each of the following. (Give examples of topics/concepts/styles of questions)

  4. Based on your responses to the questions above, name at least three things you plan to do differently in preparing for the next exam.

  5. What can we do to help support your learning and your preparation for the next exam?


Which part of the exam was easiest for you? Why? Which part of the exam was most difficult? Why? How many hours did you spend preparing for the exam? On how many different days did you study? I like this one b/c it really breaks down the student’s study schedule and may encourage them to begin studying sooner. Did you feel prepared when you walked into the exam? Why or why not?

Other questions can focus on if the student felt like he/she did not have sufficient information to answer a question-studied but forgot? Knew big picture concept but not details?

Others on test anxiety: tired, hungry, anxious, distracted, etc

Test taking skills: careless, did not rule out incorrect answers, did not notice limiting words, incomplete responses, too much time on one section and rushed through others

Who: as course coordinator/instructor or as advisor. These can certainly be helpful if you are a course coordinator or instructor. I think these exam wrappers can also be helpful when an advisee comes to you upset about a low grade on an exam. Walking them through this process can allow for self-reflection and less of a focus on external factors. Thank you for tuning into Two Pills Podcast!