An Exam by any other name

Submitted by Jennifer Shannon on

My students always seem to be intimidated by the word exam. I wanted to see what and why this happens. I gave the students a "practice problem" on graphing functions based on algebra and calculus ideas. They were not allowed to work on it together, however I did not call it an exam. I wanted to see how they did knowing it was not an exam. The students performance on the "practice" was outstanding. There were small errors in the algebra but the overall concept was near perfect. Out of two sections, a total of 53 students, everyone scored 90% or better. Then they did a similar problem for the "exam". Just knowing it was an exam made them more nervous. The scores varied from C's to A's. Attached are the practice problem and the exam. Upon returning the material I asked the students for feedback as to why they felt they did better on the practice versus the exam. Both they were not allowed to use notes and with 100% agreement they all said because one was practice and one was an exam.

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46practice.doc 21 KB
exam51stpart1.doc 21 KB
Average: 4.5 (6 votes)


Olga Tsoudis Fri, 01/19/2018 - 10:46pm

Jennifer, This is a great idea to decrease anxiety in the course. We hear so much about math anxiety. It is interesting how you can decrease anxiety and improve success by changing the perception of the activity. Thank you for sharing.

Kelly Loucy Mon, 01/22/2018 - 10:08am

How fascinating! What a great example of how our perception can impact our performance. What do you think you will do next with this information? I know you can't eliminate "exams," but what are your thoughts? Thank you for sharing. 

Catherine Cochran Mon, 01/22/2018 - 11:46am

Hi Jennifer,

This was very interesting!  I teach test taking strageties and how to overcome test anxiety in CPD 150.  It is amazing how we perform when we are relaxed.  Thank you for sharing this with us.  I am glad to hear you are applying this technique in your classroom.


Teri Graham Tue, 01/23/2018 - 10:25am


Thank you for collecting data on a concept that I have always believed in but didn't evaluate formally.  Many of our students have "test" anxiety and yet we often put such a huge weight of their grades and evaluation of their abilites on Tests.  What a great awareness opportunity for the students too!

Becky Baranowski Tue, 01/23/2018 - 12:32pm


Per our discussion on this CATS, I wonder if we should begin to have more coversations about test anxiety.  As you said, the idea of this CATS is a simple one, but it may have huge impact on success rate (especially in dev ed classes).  I wonder what "next steps" could be done with this?  Thank you for taking time to write this CATS.  

Heather Muns Tue, 01/23/2018 - 1:27pm

My son suffers greatly from text anxiety so I completely see the value in this.