Math Students – Finishing Strong

May 15, 2010 at 10:33 am Leave a comment

At my college we have semesters that last over 17 weeks. That is a long time for students to stay focused. Our finals start in one week, and this time of the semester is when students need to crank up the effort but many students start to shut down. Many figure that they have done well so far, and they should be able to coast through the final. Big mistake!

How do you keep students motivated to finish strong?

My first approach is to remind students how much they have invested in this course.

You’ve put in 16 weeks of hard work. Don’t throw it away with two weeks of slacking. Also, isn’t it better to put in two weeks of full effort to avoid having to do it all over again next semester? Two weeks of full effort can make the previous 16 weeks pay off, and you’ll avoid having to devote 18 more weeks to the same course! No brainer, right?

Some students calculate that they only need a 50% on the final exam to pass the class, and they can get a 50% without studying. That may be true for some, but in my experience students often fall short of their goals on final exams. If a student aims for 50%, and ends up at 40%, it’s impossible for me to justify giving that student a passing grade. I always relay this idea to my students, and although some students get it others figure it doesn’t apply to them.

Assignments That Do Not Let Students Shut Down

In MyMathLab I have created a series of Student Learning Outcome (SLO) Checkpoint Quizzes. I open up these quizzes over the last 2-3 weeks of class. Students are allowed to take them as many times as they’d like, with only the highest score counting.

These quizzes make up 1/3 of their total quiz grade, so students who perform poorly or skip them entirely hurt their grade. Some semesters I zero out the scores before I assign them, so students can actually see how important they are to their grade.

By making these quizzes available only at the end of the semester, I’m helping my students to keep working and to stay motivated at the end of the semester. The SLO Checkpoint Quizzes review all of the major topics from the semester, so my students are reviewing for the final while completing the quizzes.

In my experience, students recall most of the “major information” but forget some of the “little details”. They must review and prepare for the final, no matter how well they have done so far. This is the reason I let my students retake the quizzes – the first attempt will point out the material that requires more review and the subsequent attempts give them an opportunity for remediation.


This semester I am offering my students a bonus of one point on the final exam for each SLO Quiz that they pass with a score of 80% or better. Students who pass all 10 SLO Quizzes can raise their final exam score by 10 points or 1 letter grade. This policy wins over some students who may lack the intrinsic motivation to fully prepare for the final.

Am I worried about giving away 10 extra points on the final exam? Not at all. Students who complete these SLO Quizzes will improve their raw score by a lot more than 10 points.

Last semester my online elementary algebra students had the highest mean score, and most of the highest individual exam scores, on a common final exam taken by 6 or 7 classes. I am the only instructor in the group that uses these SLO Quizzes, and in my mind they were directly responsible for my students’ outstanding performance.

If you have any techniques that you use to help your students finish strong, I’d like to encourage you to share by leaving a comment, or reaching me through the contact page at my web site –


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular math topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


Entry filed under: General Teaching, Math, MyMathLab, study skills. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Factoring a Difference of Cubes or a Sum of Cubes Section Videos In MyMathLab

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