Donna Chen

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Donna Chen poses for a portrait at Teachers College Hall on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

When Donna Chen’s students sit down for one of her exams, she wants them to think of themselves before they write down the answers.

That’s why the statistics professor and graduate student in psychological studies in education always writes encouraging notes on her statistics exams to acknowledge her students’ hard work.

She said she writes, "Remember: your worth is not based upon your results on this test!" on most exams and adds motivation in the middle of in-class exams with sentences like “You are almost there” and “You're halfway done.”

For the students who did really well on the exam, she writes adjectives like “awesome job,” “fantastic,” “phenomenal” and “incredible.”

She said Matthew Fritz, one of Chen’s professors, inspired her when he would find adjectives to describe students who’d performed well on their exams.

Chen said the small affirmation made a big impact on her life.

“It motivated me and made me feel acknowledged,” she said. “It was also a nice thing to see when I got my exam back.”

Chen said she wants students to know she sees their hard work in class and that their exam scores don't define them as a person.

Evan Olander, a senior biochemistry major, said the personal notes on the exam have helped him with confidence boosts.

It would be good for more professors to follow in Chen’s footsteps, according to Olander.

“It still lets the students know that their professors care and know they have the ability to do well,” he said.

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