Learning From Exams

By Mike Caplan

Normally, I return History exams and go over them requiring students to do corrections and then hand their papers back in for a small term mark. This is to encourage reflection, self-diagnosis and the habit of students learning from their mistakes.

The problem is that students often just take down the correct answers without really understanding where they went wrong.

This year, our mid-year exams were held a little earlier than normal, and I had the opportunity to do something different to get students to consider their errors a bit more deeply.

This time, after exams were handed back, students were required to do the following:

  1. Full corrections as we went over the paper. (The memo was issued, but they were instructed to put answers in their own words.)
  2. For each question they got wrong, they had to put down a reason based on the following colour-coded set of abbreviations:
    • K – Knowledge (not knowing factual content)
    • MQ – Misunderstanding of question
    • MS – Misunderstanding of Source (historical)
    • LQ – Left out part of question
    • OW – not writing an answer in my own words.
  3. Then, having completed questions – students were required to add up the colour-coded error abbreviations, so as to get a sense of what sort of errors they were making most often.

I guess the next exam will show how successful this was, but I think it did help kids to analyse and think about their mistakes. It is, I think, a simple application of meta-cognition and could certainly work in other subjects.