Have you ever underperformed on a task without understanding where exactly you went wrong or what you could do to get better in the future? Sports coaches integrate post-game analyses into their preparation for future challenges, but most teachers, surprisingly, do not. Sometimes, though, reviewing where a student went wrong on a previous test should take priority before working on the next one.
Professor Richard M. Felder understood the importance of post-test analysis. Tired of observing how oblivious his chemical engineering students seemed to the wide gap between their expectations and outcomes on exams, he crafted a MEMO TO STUDENTS WHO ARE DISAPPOINTED WITH THEIR LAST TEST GRADE to address the issue:
Many of you have told your instructor that you understood the course material much better than your last test grade showed, and some of you asked what you should do to keep the same thing from happening on the next test.
Let me ask you some questions about how you prepared for the test. Answer them as honestly as you can. If you answer “No” to many of them, your disappointing test grade should not be too surprising. If there are still a lot of “No”s after the next test, your disappointing grade on that test should be even less surprising…
Professor Felder went on to further explore why a student might score lower than expected on an exam and introduce his famous Test Preparation Checklist:
Answer “Yes” only if you usually did the things described (as opposed to occasionally or never).
1. Did you make a serious effort to understand the text? (Just hunting for relevant worked-out examples doesn’t count.)
2. Did you work with classmates on homework problems, or at least check your solutions with others?
3. Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
4. Did you participate actively in homework group discussions (contributing ideas, asking questions)?
5. Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
6. Did you understand ALL of your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
7. Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren’t clear to you?
8. If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself that you could do everything on it?
9. Did you attempt to outline lots of problem solutions quickly, without spending time on the algebra and calculations?
10. Did you go over the study guide and problems with classmates and quiz one another?
11. If there was a review session before the test, did you attend it and ask questions about anything you weren’t sure about?
12. Did you get a reasonable night’s sleep before the test? (If your answer is no, your answers to 1-11 may not matter.)
Clearly, this checklist assumes factors prominent in college-level study of science such as homework, group work, and math calculations. That aside, the post-test analysis encouraged by this checklist should be embraced eagerly by any student who scores lower than expected on any classroom or standardized exam, no matter the subject. In fact, this list also fills the role of a perfect pre-test checklist. As Professor Felder writes in the conclusion to his memo, the question “How should I prepare for the test” becomes easy once you’ve filled out the checklist…
Do whatever it takes to be able to answer “Yes” to most of the questions.