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A final course review: The top ten list

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Several years ago, back when I was still giving in-class exams, I was convinced by Roddy Roediger to give a comprehensive final exam. By asking students to review the course material one more time by studying for the final, this increased the chances students would remember more of the course content some time later. You’ll recognize the use of the spacing effect.

When I completely revamped my courses, going all-in with my variation on interteaching (see this blog post), I eliminated my in-class exams. With no comprehensive final, what could I do insteaad that would encourage students to go back through the course content one more time? Since what I really want to know is what my students got out of the course, I decided to just ask them.

Final Course Review:

Looking back over the course, identify the 10 most important things you learned in this course. Rank order them so the most important is number 1, the second most important is number 2, and so on.

For each of those important things, explain what the concept is, and explain why it is important to you. 

An "important thing" could be a concept -- think bold-faced term -- or a research finding. Please do not list entire chapters. 

Those are all of the instructions. I purposefully leave it wide open to what “things” students couldn’t identify. And I leave “important” undefined. Most often students interpret it as things that are important to them personally, but some interpret this as things important for anyone to know, or even things that are important functions of being human.

When I assign this in a face-to-face class, we meet during our scheduled final time. Each student submits their list to the course management system before class, and they also bring them to class–or access them on a device. I ask a volunteer to share their number 1 item and why they chose it. I write the concept on the board, then briefly summarize the concept, maybe even referring back to something I covered in lecture or was covered in the textbook to help students with retrieval. Next, I ask if anyone else had that item on their top ten list. If so, I ask each to share why it made their lists. From that group of students, I ask one to share their number one item. We repeat until everyone has had an opportunity to share their number one most important item.

Because I want students to not only review the course content when they are creating their lists, but to also review the course content in class when we go through the lists, my scoring of this assignment is a little creative. The assignment is worth 30 points. Each of the 10 items is worth 3 points: identify something from the course, correctly explain what it is, and discuss why it is important. If a student is in class for this final review, students earn 5 points extra credit. If they are absent, they lose 15 points.

For my online courses, the instructions for the Final Course Review are the same, but I assign it as a discussion. I want students to not only have reviewed the course content to create their own lists, I want students to read the lists of other students. I ask students to respond to read the lists of two of their discussion groupmates, and reply with at least two of these types of comments:

A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."

A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."

A connection, e.g., "I have also read that...," "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."

A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 


Reading what students submit for the Final Course Review is an important reminder to me that there is much value in the content covered by Intro Psych. I love ending the course with this assignment not only because it gives students an opportunity to review the course content one more time, but it also allows me to see what students are taking with them as they leave my classroom (or my virtual classroom) for the last time. It’s what they’ve written that I take with me into the next term as I consider the course content I want to keep, I want to eliminate, and I want to add.

About the Author
At Highline College near Seattle, Sue Frantz is working on her third decade in the psychology college classroom. Throughout her career, she has been an early adopter of new technologies in which she saw pedagogical potential. In 2009, she founded her blog, Technology for Academics. The blog features both new tech tools and tips for using not-so-new tools effectively. She currently serves as Vice President for Resources for APA Division 2: Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. In 2016, she received the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. As the newest contributor to the Instructor Resource Manual for the David Myers and Nathan DeWall Introduction to Psychology textbooks, she is excited to bring teaching resources to you in this venue.