What is an exam wrapper and how might it improve your performance?


Each year when I repost the ‘Preparing for Exam Series’ I like to do a quick search of the literature to find new psychological concepts relating to exams that I can share, that I think might help students improve their exam performance. 

To date, most of what I have learned has ended up in the Evidence-based Exam Preparation and Writing Tips document. 

This morning I set off on such a journey and discovered the concept of ‘exam wrappers’.

An exam wrapper is a set of reflective questions a student can use to reflect on previous exams, in order to better prepare for upcoming exams. They are a ‘metacognitive tool’, meaning they get you thinking about your thinking. 

The way it works is this:


Prior to an exam, you take a moment to reflect on your preparation for an exam:

The content with which I am MOST comfortable is :________________________________

The content about which I am still confused or unable to apply is:_____________________

Using the scale below: If I were taking the exam NOW – I would expect to get….

F   P   CR   D   HD

I can define most terms (yes/no)

I can explain the content to another person (yes/no)

I can apply the concepts I’ve learned to new situations and problems (yes/no)

What I plan to do (specifically) between now & exam time is: ________________________


Where possible you review your performance on previous exams in the topic:

This requires looking closely at the feedback from previous exams, which can be a little painful if you have not done well on the material. This is ideally done relatively soon after the exam result is given, but still might be useful when looking back at a mid-year exam or an exam from a previous year. The goal is to reflect back on your previous exams, how you prepared for them, the errors you made and how you could correct these errors for upcoming exams. In preparing for end-of-year exams, you might revisit your performance on the mid-year exams. 

How did you prepare for the exam?

What kinds of errors did you make on the exam?

What could you do differently next time?


What exam wrappers do is get you focused on your preparation and the ways that you learn, not so much the content. Exam wrappers get you to consider whether the study strategies you are using for your exams are helping and if not, where might you make improvements. 

They get you to think about:

  • Your strengths and weaknesses in terms of preparation and exam performance
  • The adequacy of your preparation time and appropriateness of your study strategies
  • The nature of your common errors – what do you commonly do that is holding you back?

They are particularly relevant to students who are not happy with their previous exam performance, those looking to improve. 


The structure of an exam wrapper differs depending on the material. 

You can find some examples of exam wrappers for physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics here – https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/examwrappers/

There is one with a psychology focus here: https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/topss/teaching-resources/exam-wrapper.pdf which also includes some reflection questions to consider going into the exam

Some more wrappers can be found at – https://www.duq.edu/about/centers-and-institutes/center-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-and-learning-at-duquesne/exam-wrappers including one that really gets you think about what went wrong during an exam.

Even if you don’t use an already formulated exam wrapper, you could do this process by reviewing our Evidence-based Exam Preparation and Writing Tips document and asking yourself how many of these strategies you currently use, and whether you could try adding some to your current exam preparation. 

A Google search of ‘exam wrappers’ will yield a number of additional explanations of the concept and example wrappers that might be helpful in you applying this idea to your studies. 


You can do these, regardless of whether they are done formally by your lecturers

I’ve read that some teachers might formally embed these in a topic to help students assess their learning strategies. But you aren’t beholden to them being used within the topic, to use them yourself.

Once you are familiar with the kinds of questions you can ask yourself in exam wrappers, you can apply these yourself, regardless of whether your lecturers or tutors use them in class. However you could always make the suggestion to your tutors to embed them formally in the topic (they may or may not be appreciative of the suggestion😊) 

Remember this is not about content, this is about preparation – this means you can review any of your past exams using this process, regardless of content, and get insights into how you might improve the exam preparation component this time around. 


Will exam wrappers improve my exam performance?

From what I can gather from a quick scout of the literature, the impact of using them is mixed. Some find improved performance, some find no effect. But they are generally well received and identified as useful by students. This means they are generally subjectively beneficial (students report them as beneficial) even if they don’t always translate into objective improvements in exam scores. 

Now that I’ve found this interesting exam preparation tool, I will keep my eye on literature regarding its effectiveness. 

For more exam preparation ideas, see our Preparing for Exams Series, which I update each year. 

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