Math: Is Test Correction a Good Use of Time?
A MiddleWeb Blog
Recently my Algebra II with Trig classes took a test on exponential functions. They struggled with certain parts of the test, and I decided to allow them to make test corrections to earn extra points.
In my class, test corrections involve students reworking the test problems that they missed, my regrading their work, and the students receiving extra points to add to their test grade.
Every time we do test corrections I wonder if it does any good. The students want to make the corrections to get extra points, but does it help them master the concept?
Test correction is an area where I haven’t made much improvement since my first years of teaching. Except for a few minor tweaks, my students are doing test corrections much the same way my classes always have. And every year I think, “there has to be a better way.”
What I Want to Accomplish
I allow students to make corrections after the test because I want students to realize that taking a test does not close the door on that concept. In math, it’s always “better late than never.”
Also, I realize that some students suffer from stress when they take a test, and test corrections allow them to have a second look at the problems, minus some of the test anxiety. Many students have told me that most of their errors come from simple math mistakes as a result of nerves.
I also want students to take the time to reflect on the problems they missed so that they discover why they missed the problem. Was it a math error, failure to the read the instructions, or a failure to understand the concept?
Finally, test corrections give me information that I wouldn’t otherwise have. If a student can explain why they made a certain mistake, I can use that information to help that student and other students as well.
What Actually Happened
As I mentioned, my students recently made corrections to the test covering exponential functions. The students were eager to correct their mistakes but were preoccupied with how much additional credit they would receive. “How many points will I get for this?” is something I heard over and over.
I did not give the students a template to work from, which I usually do. I did require that they complete the corrections on a separate piece of paper. I instructed students to explain their thinking and show all their work. They could use the notes we took in class, watch video tutorials, or ask me or other students for help. I did not assign students to a partner, although they could work together if they chose.
I walked around the room to ensure that students were collaborating, not copying from each other. When students asked how much credit they would get back, I told them extra credit would be based on the quality of their work.
I took my time reading their test corrections. I really tried to understand why the students missed the problem and also what part of the problem they got right.
I found this scrutiny to be time well spent. It helped me see that a lot of students understood exponential functions but were having trouble solving equations! I probably wouldn’t have caught this if I hadn’t gone through their tests again.
As far as the quality of work, some students did a great job while others just wrote something down. Some of the test “corrections” were still incorrect. You could tell some students were interested in letting me know why they had missed the problem, and others were just writing something down because they wanted extra points.
It became clear as I looked through their papers that I need to make some adjustments and do a better job of helping students know how to correct their work and assess their understanding. For starters, I decided to ask my students a few questions regarding test corrections to gauge their opinion on the matter and see if they had any suggestions.
What Students Think About Correcting
I was surprised with students’ overwhelming endorsement of test corrections. Almost eighty-two percent thought the process was helpful (Question 1), and ninety-seven percent felt like it’s important after a test to understand their mistakes (Question 2). When I asked if correcting their tests would help them avoid making the same errors in the future (Question 3), almost everyone said yes.
My biggest eye-opener
The biggest surprise to me was the way students responded when asked an open-ended question: How can I best help you after a test? Many students said they would benefit by talking one on one with me and having the opportunity to discuss what they missed.
Students responded with comments like “I want to explain in person” or “I want you to explain to me how I missed the question.” I hadn’t thought of this before. I’ve had informal post-test discussions with students in the past, but having a conversation was never a deliberate part of my test corrections process.
After reading these responses, during our next round of test corrections I made a point to invite some students to talk with me one on one. The students spoke very thoughtfully about the mistakes they had made and how to prevent making them in the future.
This is probably the first time I’ve come close to getting the amount of thought and reflection I’ve always wanted from the test corrections process.
My Plan for Improvement
After much thought and discussion with my students, I’ve decided on a few changes in how I handle test corrections:
- I’ll allow adequate time for students to correct their tests and to reflect on their learning.
- I’ll provide students an opportunity to discuss their thinking with me one on one.
- I’ll make a short list of “take-aways” as I review test corrections to use as a reference next year. (For example, a “take-away” could be a common mistake made by students or a test question that needs to be modified or removed.)
- I’ll start at the beginning of the year demonstrating the quality of work that I expect when they do their test corrections.
I know this is just a beginning and I’m not exactly sure how this is going to look in my classroom. I hope in the not too distant future I’ll be able to provide an update. Meanwhile, if any readers have any suggestions, I would be very grateful!