Some say that first impressions are most important. But every professor who finds their students aimlessly filing out of class two-thirds of the way through will say that students’ final impressions of class tend to last longest—what did they get from showing up, if they just breezed out again? Luckily, there’s an established way you can make sure students go out of the door with purpose and accomplishment: exit tickets.

Exit tickets are one of the fastest, lowest-commitment types of active learning tools to implement. Essentially, you ask your students to provide a written answer to a question about their learning before they’re “allowed” to leave your class. This helps students clarify, understand, and recall their learning better. And, if you feel the need, you can tie attendance or participation grades to completion.

There are a number of different kinds of exit tickets. Here are two examples, each with a different emphasis:

Minute paper

The minute paper is one of the favorite tools of James Lang, education expert and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College, and it’s particularly helpful in classes that are discussion- or lab-led.

According to Lang, the end of the lecture is “when you want to say, ‘Okay class, we had a great discussion. Last five minutes here, I want everyone to write down in your notebook or index card, what are three key takeaways you had from this discussion, and what’s one question that you still have?’”

If it takes place at the end of a lively class discussion, a minute paper won’t derail your students’ train of thought, but help to connect their ideas with the wider aim of the class. The best class discussions always spill out into the hallway, and a minute paper won’t dampen student enthusiasm.

Muddiest point

In the ‘muddiest point’ exercise, students are given index cards and asked to write down what they least understood about that day’s lesson. You could consider making this anonymous in order to encourage honest responses.

You can use this exit ticket is to find out your class’s muddiest point by process of elimination. Ask your students to send you topics they feel most in need of clarification, consolidate them into a list, and see if there are any standout issues. Try to pre-dedicate time in the following class to address these issues.

Exit tickets: Some downloadable examples

Our Top Hat Tool Kit, designed with the help of instructional design experts, contains many helpful printouts—including exit tickets. We have four versions with two questions each. Two of the versions can be used as jumping-off points for minute papers (assessing understanding and asking students to reflect and summarize), and the other two can be used for muddiest point exercises (finding gaps in learning, and what students would want covered the following class).

Download the exit tickets here, or take a look at the full Top Hat Teaching Tool Kit.

And if you want to hear more about how James Lang uses the last five minutes of class, download our free ebook, How to Make Class Time Really Count.