Incentivizing Programmatic Exams – How to Motivate Students?

“Our greatest struggle is our students are just clicking through their exams,” says Charles, a small business school dean. “I feel like we have tried everything to incentivize the exam, but we keep finding that students are not trying on our exit exam. So how do you motivate students before exams?”

Charles’ experience is not an isolated one. Often, our higher education partners report they struggle to find a way to incentivize their end-of-program exams to get a good measure of student retained knowledge. The issue is rooted mainly in what is referred to as “senioritis” – a common affliction with symptoms of decreased motivation as learners reach the end of their courses or program. On the other hand, learners coming into an academic program are much more motivated to do well, which means they will take the time to carefully read exam questions and give thoughtful answers. However, this does not help school officials get a good sense of how much students learned during an academic program and is a poor reflection on students’ retained knowledge at the end of a program. So, what is the trick to motivating students before exams?

Understanding Motivation

Let’s focus on motivation. Motivation is derived from the word motive or a need that requires satisfaction. There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. 

Extrinsic motivation is to be motivated by external factors such as grades. The individual is not doing the task because they enjoy it, but because they expect recognition or want to avoid punishment. Extrinsic motivation is quite common in education, and a literature review from 2014 shows that extrinsic motivation can be an effective tool in most situations. However, not everyone is motivated by external rewards or punishments, and therefore it may not be the best method for everyone. There is also a risk of rewards losing their appeal over time, or individuals performing the bare minimum to receive the reward.

It is best for extrinsic motivators to be balanced with intrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to participate in an activity, master a skill, or reach an achievement, even without operationally discrete rewards. For the most part, people participate in activities for the sake of the joy and fulfillment. For example, some people like to bake bread. There is no reward for baking the bread or consequence for not baking the bread. An individual could easily go to their local bakery and purchase some freshly baked bread. However, they continue to bake bread. The enjoyment of the challenge, the sense of making progress and improvements, and the interest in the science behind baking motivate them to spend hours perfecting different variations of bread. 

Intrinsic motivators are powerful but often challenging to provide to students in an academic setting, especially when taking an exam. Therefore, the best course of action is to balance intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When you create a balance of motivators, you answer the questions, “Is it worth it?”, “Can I do it?”, and “Will it work?” These questions are critical to motivating your students to start the exam, give their best effort on the exam, and finish the exam.

Learn more about the psychology of self-motivation by watching the following TedTalk featuring Scott Gellar.

Best Practices for Incentivizing Programmatic Exams

Peregrine Global Services has provided exams to more than a million students over the past decade. We have worked closely with our thought-partners in higher education to create tried and true best practices for incentivizing exams. Most importantly, these practices will help your students answer the following questions:

  • Can I do it?
  • Will it work?
  • Is it worth it?

Best Practices that answer, “Can I do it?”

The question, “Can I do it” is related to self-efficacy. Do your students have the information, tools, and training to take the exam?

  • Provide students with information about the assessment early on within their program or course. The best practice for the programmatic evaluation is to include information about the assessment in program-specific course syllabuses.
  • Ensure that learners know the when, where, and how of the exam. They should know what is expected of them and when.
  • Utilize an inbound (beginning of the program) exam to give learners an understanding of what to anticipate when taking the exam at the end of their program.

Best Practices that answer, “Will it work?”

“Will it work?” is related to response efficacy. Do your students believe that the recommended action will lead to a promised outcome?

  • Educate learners on the “why” behind the assessment. Explain how their participation is used to measure program strengths and design improvement efforts.
  • If you require a minimum score for graduation, ensure that the score is normed, and students are notified of what remedial actions will be taken if they don’t meet the threshold for passing.
  • Although student will rely only on retained knowledge and do not have to study for the exam, it is useful to provide learners with the topic and subject areas covered on the exam.
  • If you are utilizing Peregrine’s knowledge-based assessments, you can review the content within the Learner Assessment Report. This report provides a comprehensive overview of the purpose of programmatic assessment and the benefit it provides to the learner. Also, learners receive a complete guide to making the most of their assessment report, including an overview of the report and a glossary of terms. Most importantly, the Learner Assessment Report provides students with a tool they can use for their professional portfolios after they graduate.

Download the Learner Assessment Report Quick Guide

Best Practices that answer, “Is it worth it?”

Best Practices that answer, “Is it worth it?”

“Is it worth it?” is related to motivation. Do students believe the consequences are worth giving their best effort on the exam?

  • Provide a grade for the exam. We recommend that the exam accounts for 10% of the total course grade, with 5% for completing the assessment and 5% awarded based on the score received.
  • Do not provide incentives like gift cards for completing the assessment. Students often will only click through the exam, which is not accurate for measuring their retained knowledge.
  • Suppose you are using Peregrine’s knowledge-based assessment. In that case, you can have students take an inbound assessment and let students know that they will be able to see what knowledge they gain throughout the program. This fosters students’ desire to improve and seek mastery.
  • If you are using Peregrine’s knowledge-based assessment, explain the benefits of the Learner Assessment Report, such as how it can be used in their professional portfolio after graduation or the ability for students to see how they compare against other students who took the exam.
  • Another best practice involves assigning a reflection paper or action plan after students complete the inbound (beginning of the program) assessment. This ensures learners make sense of the exam results and allows them to understand learning and begin to discover how to adapt. At the end of the program, assign a professional portfolio and guide students on how the Learner Assessment Report can help enrich their portfolio.

Closing Remarks

Figuring out how to motivate students before exams is difficult. Peregrine is committed to helping our thought-partners in higher education overcome these challenges as we believe that by accurately measuring retained knowledge, we can impact quality in education. To learn more about Peregrine’s assessments, the Learner Assessment Report, or meet with a member of our team, contact us.