Final Exams

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Winsights No. 52 (August 2001)

Those of you who are well familiar with “brainstorming” know that the best ideas are generated near the end of the brainstorming session, after the fluff and trite stuff has been gotten out of the way. If you aren’t really familiar with brainstorming, please go to the CPS Techniques section on this site and check out Gravel Gulch; become familiar with that procedure. Or dig out some of the prolific literature on the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) system which heads the world-wide creativity movement.

Those of you who are well familiar with “Freenoting” know that the best ideas are generated near the end of the freenoting sessions, after the fluff and trite stuff has been gotten out of the way. If you aren’t really familiar with Freenoting, please go to the Teaching & Learning Techniques section of this site and check out Freenoting; become familiar with it — an amazingly useful procedure, though admittedly for some people it involves some effort to do such writing. .

Those of you who have read Betty Edwards’ famous book, Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain, and tried her famous exercise of drawing a picture upside down, know that our perceptions and responses are far more accurate once we’ve gotten out of our way the fluff, the trite and stock responses we have for nearly everything, our short-cuts in perception and thinking…. Once we’ve gotten past these, we can become remarkably perceptive, effective and creative.

In addition to these, the “Final Exams” procedure below makes a truly wonderful way to review much of the contents and context of a course, especially a successful one like those this writer enjoys teaching at the National Institute for Teaching Excellence, a masters-degree program for teachers conducted each summer by Cambridge College. This writer first invented this procedure Friday, July 27, 2001, and used it to good effect the same day. You might as well have its use for your courses as well, if you so please. Enjoy.

For courses without final exams, to reduce anxiety, and to supplement finals in courses which have exams and tests. A major end-of-course booster and review.

Tell your students,

  1. Each of you make a list of five of the things you’ve learned from this course. Especially things you’d like to highlight. Number these five…

    [After 2-3 minutes’ pause, enabling your students to write their items::]

    Now turn them into questions.

    [Appropriate 2-3 minute pause to enable your students to turn their items into written questions, numbered 1-5:]
  2. Please pair up as partners….
  3. Decide between you very quickly which of you goes first as Hotseat and which of you goes first as Listener…….. OK, Hotseat, have your Listener partner call out a number between one and five.
  4. Hotseat: whichever of your own questions matches that number from among your five, tell, in a descriptive rapid-flow torrent, EVERYTHING that comes to your mind in the context of that question and its answer or answers. Sustain that torrential flow for seven to nine minutes, without any letup.
  5. Listener, write down the 1 or 2 most interesting ideas you’ve heard going by during this torrent. (It’s probably impractical to try writing them all down and your efforts to get them all down would likely slow Hotseat when we really want to speed Hotseat up!)
  6. Hotseat, please write down the idea or so YOU noticed going by that was most interesting. Then, Hotseat, you and your Listener compare notes for a few minutes on what you found most interesting, what was most interesting about it, and why it interested you….. [Have your students reverse roles and repeat this process the other way. After this cycle is complete, ask:]
  7. Where did you find the most interesting ideas — near the start or near the end of your torrent and your partner’s torrent?

You will find that, 99% of the time, the best ideas occurred near the end, very much in keeping with findings from brainstorming and Freenoting. This will justify doing one more question cycle each way as per above, this time going for sustained 8- to 10-minute torrents.

I guarantee that even if some silly or even plain wrong ideas are in the front of the torrent, as with a brainstorm, really good and meaningful insights will start cropping up and predominate toward the end, and your students will have a much better grasp and understanding of your course than would otherwise have been the case — and feel much better about you and about your course than about most others, and more likely to follow through on what you’ve taught them. That easily.