Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Dr. Megan Grunert Kowalske

Second Advisor

Dr. James Kiddle

Third Advisor

Dr. Elke Schoffers

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


The main way most college chemistry courses assess what a student has learned is through a summative exam. After introductory science courses, such as general chemistry, many students cite poor teaching and disappointing grades in these courses as a reason for dropping out of STEM programs. There has been a lack of qualitative research on students’ experiences of the complete process of taking an exam from start to finish, or the exam process, which includes preparing for an exam, taking an exam, receiving feedback, and responding to feedback after the exam has been graded.

My goal in this exploratory study was to understand the phenomenon of students’ exam process using phenomenographic methods to answer the research questions: How do students think about and approach (1) Exam preparation? (2) Taking an exam? (3) Results and feedback after an exam? Data was collected through interviews with two groups. One group was interviewed using a semi-structured interview protocol both before and after an exam and the other was interviewed only after the exam using the combined protocol. Qualitative interviews were analyzed using emergent coding to describe students’ experiences of the exam process in their general chemistry course. Interesting themes from this research include students’ perceptions of their confidence, how self-efficacy is a part of students’ exam process, and how students seek out and use feedback from exams during the exam process.