What You Don't Know (Can Hurt You): Using Exam Wrappers to Foster Self-Assessment Skills in Law Students
81 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019 Last revised: 4 Feb 2020
Date Written: 2020
“Where did I go wrong?”
When we fail it’s tempting to forget it and move on. However, reflecting on poor performance and figuring out how to proceed is critical to being a successful student and lawyer. Unfortunately, when students receive a disappointing grade they often lack the ability to understand what went wrong and how to change.
Creating self-regulated learners who can identify what they don't know and make a plan to improve is key to helping students succeed. In order to do so – and in order to produce ethical, productive lawyers – law schools should place a greater emphasis on fostering the skill of self-assessment among students.
I propose exam wrappers as an effective and adaptable tool to strengthen law students’ self-assessment skills. The exam wrapper is a one page post-exam exercise currently utilized in a wide variety of disciplines including physics, chemistry, and second language acquisition; it has not yet been studied in law schools. Wrappers improve students’ study and exam taking techniques, while ingraining life-long self-assessment practices. In addition, when used properly, they constitute a formative assessment as required by American Bar Association (ABA) guidelines and best practices in legal education, without demanding an excessive amount of work on the part of professors.
In this Article I (1) briefly review metacognition and self-regulated learning; (2) argue for the importance of self-assessment as crucial a skill for law students and lawyers alike; (3) review recent scholarship on exam wrappers across higher education; and (4) offer a proposal for the development and implementation of exam wrappers in legal education. “What You Don’t Know” provides readers with foundational knowledge around the importance of self-assessment in legal education, as well as concrete templates and guidance for using exam wrappers in the law school classroom.
Given a widespread weakness in accurate self-assessment, the desire to produce self-regulated learners, and a consensus about the need for more formative assessment of law students, there is a persuasive argument for combining these needs through student-involved assessment activities. Exam wrappers are a valuable tool in the effort to standardize and strengthen law school post-exam reflection.
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