Study Skills – Test Analysis

February 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm 1 comment

I remember handing an exam back to an algebra student. He looked at the score, crumpled the exam into a ball, and dropped it into the trash. I was quite surprised and asked him, “Don’t you need to keep that?” He replied, “Why?” I laughed a little on the inside, but then I realized he was serious – he had no idea that he could benefit from looking over his test. He just wanted to know the result, and was wondering why I didn’t just hand him an index card with his score on it.

Many students view an exam as the end of the learning process, but it is simply not true. A student that does not analyze their errors will carry their misconceptions to the material in the next unit. The student may also repeat the same mistakes on a cumulative final exam.

Test Analysis Assignment

Here is an assignment that I like to give after I hand back the first exam:

For any problem you have lost points on,

  • Explain the error in your own words.
  • Rework the problem correctly.
  • Cite a page number and example number where this type of problem can be found in the book.
  • Make up a similar problem of your own and solve it.

By having the students explain their error, I am asking them to begin by identifying what went wrong. When they choose the words necessary to explain their error they are more likely to retain this information.

By asking them to rework their problem, I am giving them a chance to prove to themselves that they can do it. Students who struggle on an exam often suffer a blow to their confidence and this is one way to get them back on track.

By having them find a page number and example number I am trying to give a subtle hint that they need to use their book as a learning tool. (As opposed to thinking of their book some device that simply holds their homework problems.) Hopefully the next time they are stuck on a homework problem they will remember to look to their book for help.

If a student is able to make up a similar problem and solve it, they are showing that they truly understand the concept involved in that problem.

In addition to the immediate analysis of their exam, they are also creating a study guide for the final exam. This guide is filled with common errors to avoid, 2 correctly worked out problems per topic, and a reference location for further help. Students are creating a study guide tailored to their individual needs, something that would be impossible for me to do for each of my 200 students.

Grading the Assignment

For me, this really depends on the class. When I have a highly motivated class I treat this like a homework assignment. For other classes I offer them a chance to earn back some of their test points (as a rule, Test 1 only) or to earn some other special reward like the ability to earn points at our tutorial center. In some classes I deduct 10 points from their exam and return them when they turn the assignment in. (I suppose this is the “Tough Love” approach?)

If you have any questions about this assignment, or questions about math study skills, you can always reach me through the Contact page on my website.

-George

EDIT – For a really great article on the importance of reworking incorrect problems, whether they are homework, quiz, or test problems, check out this article on Whit Ford’s Learning and Teaching Math Blog.

I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Tuesday I put out an article related to math study skills.

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