Monday, December 19, 2005

Post-Exam Blues: Improve your future test results by learning from your mistakes and your successes

Sometimes I’ve been disappointed when I got poor or lower-than-expected marks on exams, even though I thought I understood the course material. In these situations, I’ve also felt frustrated because I thought that I’d wasted my time and energy preparing for this test. After the exam is over and the marks are posted, is there anything students can do to redeem a bad exam experience? And what can we do after a successful exam to make sure we match this success on future tests? By the time we get marks back after an exam, we may be sick and tired of looking at the material from that course. If we got a mark that was less than satisfactory we may avoid looking at a past exam because we feel bad about the grade. But, writing exams is not just about marks. Assessing exam performance is an important step in our learning process. Just as important, exams are a fact of student life. Students will find themselves going through the exam process on a regular basis. Having a “post-exam” system to follow is one of the secrets to student success.

Looking at marked exams offers both immediate and long-term benefits. You can use returned tests or exams to learn about how the instructor constructs exams.
• What patterns do you see in types of questions asked?
• Do the test questions put more emphasis on lecture or text notes?
• What does the marked test reveal about grading patterns?
Answering these questions can help you prepare more effectively for the next test or final exam in the course. Final exams also offer useful information about your skills.
• Which study and test-taking strategies were most successful?
• Which ones need improvement?
You may even use an analysis of your test-taking skills to influence course choices in the future.
• Which courses, or specific course sections, use testing methods that match my skills?
With multiple choice exams, students are often allowed to take the question sheets with them when they leave an exam. After an exam, you can compare your answer sheets to the correct answers posted by the instructor. If essay exams are not returned, you can request to see your marked exam and evaluate your strengths as well as where you need to improve.1

So, next time you get a test or exam returned to you, remember you’re not done with it yet! It’s also important to look at what you did that worked. Don’t miss this important opportunity to evaluate your study and test-taking habits, and to help you prepare for the next exam. And, don't forget the LAC! LAC tutors would be more than happy to sit down with you post-test and help you evaluate what went wrong and what went right!

University of Texas has a useful page on preparing for and then evaluating your test results

See this Middle Tennessee State University website for a dozen practical
reasons to look over your returned tests:

1 See the “Worksheet for Examining Returned Tests” in Longman, Debbie Guice, and Rhonda Holt Atkinson. College Learning and Study Skills. 2nd ed. St. Paul: West Publishing, 1991. p. 200.


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