Student Learning Responsibility – Stop the Turkey Baking Approach to Studying

The Issue

There can be a big disconnect between how students define studying and preparing for an exam and how the instructor assesses student learning. After the first exam in my core biology class, I tend to hear statements from the students such as “I knew the material, you just didn’t ask me the right question.”  After grading their exams, many times I’m left wondering “I prepared them for the material. Why didn’t they do better on the exam?”

turkeyTo some degree, the disconnect in my class was related to the students not understanding that there needed to be a greater level of comprehension of the material.  Most students have no idea about Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning or how it might apply to their studying and learning.  My students, mostly freshman, believed in the turkey baking approach to studying…..if they study X hours=done!

I was very surprised to find that a large portion of the students felt learning biology was about memorization instead of analyzing and interpreting information and observations. Students felt reading the textbook or looking over Powerpoint slides was sufficient for studying for exams.  I presented Bloom’s taxonomy to the students in class and gave examples of questions at each level that related to the class. I felt that I had explained to the students that their study habits from high school may not be sufficient for what was expected at the college level but did not observe many students changing the study habits they brought with them from high school even though they may not be working for them now.  I didn’t see a difference in how they performed.

The Solution

I decided that the students needed to be more reflective and proactive in regards to their study skills and exam assessments.  I decided to create a post-test analysis assessment after reading a number of different assessment articles.  The specifics of the three part assessment can be found in the Life Science Teaching Resource Community.

This process has been completed in two different sections of the course over the last year and included approximately 140 students.  What was apparent was that students were not very accurate at predicting their exams scores immediately after completing the exams. Students over-estimated their exams scores by an average of over 9% on the first exams.  Essentially, they thought they were performing a whole letter grade better than they were. Students became better at predicting their performance by the second exam [3% average difference in actual vs predicted performance]. And it wasn’t just that they were getting better at predicting their scores but that they were doing better on the exams.  Overall the average on the second exam increased by more than 13%!  Around 70% of the students self-reported that they altered their study techniques for the second exam as well.

So what did I learn from all of this?  Students were talking more about understanding a concept in the classroom instead of memorizing a fact after doing the first post-test assessment.  In addition, the students appeared to be better informed of what is expected of them during exams.  They self-reported that they utilized new techniques for studying while stating they weren’t really studying longer [thus not just burning the turkey].

In the end, their average grades on exams increased after asking them to reflect and judge their own studying techniques and habits.  Asking them to be more responsible for their studying seems to have given them a feeling of control over their exam performance that they didn’t feel initially.  Hopefully they will take this new understanding of cognitive learning and studying along the rest of their college journey.






Kelly Wentz-Hunter is a LifeSciTRC Scholar and Fellow who teaches biology to undergraduate students. She serves as an Associate Professor of Biology, Allied Health Coordinator, and Pre-professional Advisor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL and is Director of STEP Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities. Kelly has developed a number of curricula including a Cellular and Molecular Biology Curriculum for MedEdPORTAL.

11 thoughts on “Student Learning Responsibility – Stop the Turkey Baking Approach to Studying”

This topic has always been of great interest to me, that of metacognition with students. Few students truly reflect upon their habits and how this correlates to their performance. Personally I think Fink’s taxonomy captures more of this than Bloom’s. I often talk with my students about this, and look forward to using this resource with them!

    I am always amazed at how resistant students can be to alter their study habits even when it is obvious they are not working well for them. Like all of us, students can be set in their ways and change is always difficult and a little scary. It has been my hope that at least some students can become very reflective in their learning habits and begin to make positive changes going forward. I would appreciate any feedback you may have after you use these resources!

Some students are not good at answering certain “types” of questions. When I gave an exam made up of 50% short answers and 50% multiple choice questions, some students wrote great essays but could not answer the multiple choice questions, others were just the opposite. If a student did bad in both, then s/he did not know the material. Maybe students should change the way they study. Worth looking into the new resources, thanks!


    You bring up a good point about style of questions and student performance. In this class, I also have multiple choice as well as short answer questions and then always at least one upper level application/synthesis question. One of the reasons I ask the students to systematically go through the exam when they receive it back is so that they can use data to see if they really are bad at multiple choice/short answer or if they were just overall ill prepared for the exam. If you decide to use this in your courses, I would enjoy any feedback you may have.

I am always looking for ways to (1) get students to take responsibility for studying/learning and (2) improve examination outcomes. I have multiple resources about how to study posted on the web part of my courses but have found most students don’t even look at them. I am looking forward to reviewing your resource and perhaps trying it out in my classes.

    Sometimes no matter how many times we post resources or talk about them in class, students tend not to put much weight into them because they don’t see the direct connection with their our study habits. This is one of the reasons that I require them to answer questions immediately after the exam and then to actively participate in the analysis of what went wrong or right on the test. I would appreciate any feedback you may have on these resources if you decide to use them in your courses.

Awesome how awareness is its own intervention at times – really cool experiment that holds promise to all levels of teaching science. Thanks for this Kelly. I’m going to try this with my seniors in high school.

    I would love to get any feedback you might have after using this in your high school.

What a great way to get students to reassess their studying habits. This is definitely something I also struggle with!

Thank you for bringing in Bloom’s taxonomy. This year some of my students had a hard time with compare and contrast questions. At the start of next term I will give some examples of questions and what level of Bloom’s they fall into. I agree most think all they need to do is memorize.Some make flash cards for everything which is not the best way to learn and comprehend the material.

I love the turkey analogy.  Putting the idea of connecting learning and thinking is so well put in the post test analysis.  Thanks for this great work.

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