Michelle Allendoerfer: Six Degrees of Separation Exam Review

Today Michelle Allendoerfer, assistant professor of political science and program coordinator for the Women’s Leadership Program at George Washington University, has a post on an exam review activity.

Kevin BaconA typical open Q &A review session has a few short-comings: students focus on the format of an exam over content, students come without questions and expect the instructor to just summarize the entire term in one session, or a couple of students have questions and the rest free-ride.  I developed this activity to encourage students to take more ownership over the review process and take the focus off of me.  I call it “Six Degrees of Comparative Politics.” It can easily be used for any class – just change the name.

Preparation for the activity is minimal.  I make a stack of index cards with key terms or phrases printed on them.  I select terms that reflect both the learning objectives of the course and the content of the exam. I tend to focus on theories over memorizing facts, so my cards have theories and concepts (e.g. modernization theory, ethnic identity, gender quotas).

Most of the students have heard of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” but I typically give a quick summary before getting started.  I divide the students into pairs or small groups and give them each two index cards drawn completely at random.

The groups are given a short amount of time to connect the terms on their two index cards in “six degrees” or fewer. When the time is up, each group presents their connection on the board.  As each group presents, we pause as needed to address questions that the class has about the concepts or the connections drawn by the group.  You can easily make this competitive; the group that can connect their concepts in the fewest steps “wins.” A word of caution: some connections will be much easier to make than others.  It’s just luck of the draw.

The activity is fast-paced, fun, and gets the students thinking about the big picture in creative ways.