End of the Semester Review

Welcome to “dead week,” the oh-so-cheerily-named days before Final Exams. I’ve never been a fan of the term, to be honest; it seems to relegate this crucial part of the semester to meaningless status. Like “dead air,” or “dead space,” painting this week as “dead week” minimizes the importance that the last week of classes actually has for the semester. For some of our students, what happens this week and next means the difference between an A or a B, while for others it means the difference between passing and failing. With those kind of stakes, it seems like “dead week” ought to be more than holding space between the “real semester” and final exam week. 

One of the most common activities for the final week of classes is the review session. Those of us who were TAs in our graduate programs probably remember being tasked to lead these sessions at one point or another. My own memories of such sessions mostly involve facing a room full of students and waiting for their questions, only to realize that they had come to the session expecting me to provide all the answers they needed for the final. This type of misalignment can lead to a disaster (as it did in my case), where the instructor is frustrated because the students didn’t articulate what they needed from the session, while the students came with a set of expectations that ended up being unfulfilled. How can we conduct effective review sessions that remain free from this type of frustration? How do review sessions offer students effective review material without spoon-feeding them what’s on the final exam? In short, how do we promote effective learning at the end of the semester?

In the Teaching Professor blog, Maryellen Weimer offers some useful suggestions for “Five Ways to Improve Exam Review Sessions,” as well as an overview of Terence Favero’s article on “Active Review Sessions.” If you’ve not used end of the semester review sessions before, and are wondering how to set one up, this article from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching is a great place to start, as is this primer from Colorado State’s Institute for Learning and Teaching, which advocates spreading review sessions out over two class periods.

Finally, as we wrap up the semester, it’s always worth thinking about how we bring our courses to a close. Are there things we want to make sure our students carry with them out of our class? Do we want to give any last words of advice or encouragement? Tami Eggleston and Gabie Smith, in an article for the Association of Psychological Science, argue that effective closure is important in both an academic and emotional sense: “After a great deal of time developing a sense of comfort and community in the classroom, ignoring class endings seems awkward and abrupt to both students and faculty.” They go on to suggest a number of different techniques and activities to bring a course to a satisfying close; you can read their entire list here.


The CETL blog will be on hiatus until the beginning of the Spring semester. We hope that your semester ends well and that you have a happy and restful holiday season. If there’s any way we can be of service during these final two weeks, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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