Using assignment/exam wrappers

Students taking an exam

This blog post was adapted from Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center, under a Creative Commons license.

An effective method to help students become self-directed learners and to take charge of their learning process is for instructors to use assignment/exam wrappers.

Introduced by Marsha Lovett (2013), exam wrappers were a response to her STEM students’ poor study strategies. The purpose of the wrapper was to encourage her students to critically evaluate their own learning.

Assignment/exam wrappers are activities that “wrap around” an exam or assignment. They are used either before or after an exam, or both, helping students plan how they will study for their exam, or reflect on their performance afterward. Ultimately, they help students strategize how they can improve their performance on the next assignment/exam.

Students tend to primarily focus on the grade they’ve earned on assignments and/or exams rather than the learning opportunities that can be facilitated from those methods of assessment. For example, assignments can help students:

  • identify their own individual areas of strength and weakness to guide further study;
  • reflect on the adequacy of their preparation time and the appropriateness of their study strategies; and
  • characterize the nature of their errors to find any recurring patterns that could be addressed.

This type of self-reflection is referred to as Metacognition, or simply, thinking about one’s thinking. To be more precise, “it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition includes a critical awareness of a) one’s thinking and learning and b) oneself as a thinker and learner” (Chick, 2013).

Studies have shown exam wrappers lead to increases in metacognition with moderate to significant improvement in students’ subsequent exam performance. The University of Illinois produced this short video which gives an example of how one professor used exam wrappers, in addition to how well-received they were by her students.

Some instructors have been known to use them directly after an exam, and when students receive their graded exam back, they can review their exam wrapper at the same time.

While they can take time to develop, they don’t have to eat up much class time, and can even be done as homework. They are adaptable to different courses and disciplines, and many kinds of assignments. They are also recyclable and can be used for multiple assignments over many semesters.

If you would like to design your own assignment/exam wrapper, there are websites that can help you develop them, such as the Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence, or the Global Metacognition Institute.

You can also download examples, or templates, from Mellon College of Science courses at the Carnegie Mellon University:

Virginia Tech’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning also offers example wrappers and test analyses.


Chick, N. (2013). Metacognition. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [todaysdate] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition

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