Tests Are Learning Experiences, Too

This post is one in a series on leveraging students’ prior knowledge from experiential learning in your course.

Construct exams that invoke “real world” scenarios

Because exams tend to be worth the greatest percentage of the course grade in courses that use them, exam content also conveys to students in not-so-subtle ways the instructor’s values and priorities. Since most of us hope that our students will ultimately carry their learning from our course with them to future real-world contexts, our exam questions can and should reflect this value.

How can experiential learning enhance students’ motivation on my exams?

Using exam questions related to the work students in your field might do helps create an environment in which students see that their experiential learning activities are consistently and explicitly valued in a course—for example, not just as something to discuss in class, but also as something to assess (Ford, 1992). This also motivates students to focus on the course material using a “real world” lens, which can lead students to engage more with both the course material and their experiential learning activities (Green, 1997).


Have students write and submit questions that may appear on an upcoming exam. Rather than just inviting questions of any kind, clarify that the questions students submit must relate the course material in some way to their own experiential learning activities, past, present, or future. You can pick the best questions and actually put them on the exam.



Ford, M.E. (1992). Motivating humans: Goals, emotions and personal agency beliefs. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Green, D.H. (1997). Student-generated exams: Testing and learning. Journal of Marketing Education, 19(2), 43-53.