Considering Test Retakes

Decorative: "Try, Try Again, Success" with iterative arrows going from Try to Try Again and back before one final arrow points to Success


"Allowing Test Retakes -- Without Getting Gamed" (post) offers some useful guidelines for if you allow test retakes -- as well a few "more comprehensive approaches to retesting that seemed to work."

A. Guidelines for Retakes

1. "Consider partial credit."

Many instructors "withh[o]ld full credit for retakes—though [there are] a wide range of standards for partial credit." 

  • "Some averag[e] the two grades."
  • "[O]thers establis[h] a maximum possible score."
  • "[A] few ... replac[e] the initial grade with the newly earned grade, even if it [goes] down."

2. "Keep the rest of the class on track."

  • "Don’t slow the ... progress in your classroom to accommodate students who need to retest—unless the exam reveals a broad lack of mastery."
  • Consider "reteaching and retesting" outside of class.
  • Carefully curated and/or crafted multimedia aids, online resources, online games, etc. can be used to "reteach" the content, and D2L can be used for retesting outside class time.

3. "Don’t give the same test." 

  • "Yes, it imposes more work on the teacher."
  • "[B]ut ... if you’re going to allow retesting, the second test should be different from the original—and just as challenging."

4. "Require students to relearn." 

"Students often fail tests because they haven’t put in the work to master the material."

  • "Retakes should not be another spin of the roulette wheel."
  • "[S]udents who want another shot should demonstrate that they’ve made a genuine effort to study."

5. "Don’t assume all subjects are the same." 

"In subjects like foreign languages and math, which rely heavily on sequential skill building, the need for retakes is crucial."

  • "Prohibiting retesting can strand students at a critical juncture with no good way to recover."
  • "Allow retakes and use the guidelines above."

B. Some More Comprehensive Approaches

1. Mastery Quizzes

“[M]astery quizzes ... are tailored specifically to what the students failed to master on the original exam."

  • "These quizzes are short, often consisting of only two to four questions, and can help students earn back up to half the points they lost on the original test."
  • "Students are retested only on what they didn’t know ... It seems silly to retest them on topics they already understand."

2. Reflective Test Corrections

a. Require students "to reflect on, and write about, the questions they miss on tests."

  • Return "[m]arked exams ... with the correct answers."
  • "[A]sk students "to 'explain the process they went through' to arrive at their incorrect answers."
  • Ask them to "identify their mistakes and show how they affected the outcome."
  • Ask them to "how they intend to 'correct this misconception or mistake on future questions.'"

b. "[T]hese 'reflective responses' are about one paragraph long and have several clear benefits":

  • "They show students that so-called bad answers are often just a simple, correctable glitch in their processing."
  • "[T]hey reduce ... anxiety by demonstrating that even hard-to-master problems can be solved with more effort."
  • "[T]hey get [students] to verbalize their thinking and thereby scaffold tough ... concepts with language skills."

3. A Peer-to-Peer Approach

"[T]eaching a topic to someone else is one of the best ways to learn it."

  • "Preparing to impart knowledge ... forces [people] to identify holes and weaknesses in their own knowledge, creating a mutually beneficial process of learning for both teachers and students."
  • "[A]s[k] students who did well on a test ... to create a lesson and teach it to those who didn’t perform as well."
  • "If students who retake the test pass, both the peer student and the peer teacher receive extra points." 

4. Metacognition Has Me Thinking ...

"[A]llo[w] retakes, but only after a student has submitted a form that asks them to reflect on the past, present, and future of their testing efforts."

  • Students "are asked to reflect on 'why they failed and what they are going to do to improve' on the retake and 'how to prevent failure in the future.'"
  • "Questions might prompt students to look at how many hours they actually studied, what strategies they used to master the material, and where and under what conditions the studying occurred."
  • This can help students "plan for a long-term goal, imagine obstacles, and consider strategies for overcoming them show improvements in grades, attendance, and conduct."
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