Part of what makes teaching, especially being new at it, is trying to figure out what makes the most sense to do. At this school, exams are heavily weighted (20% for 3 tests, 20% for a final), so it’s important that they do well. Everyone here has a system to help the students do better. One professor allows for infinite number of retakes. Another allows for students to make up their own problems and submit a correct solution.

Here are my strategies with the exam:

  • Give a practice exam in class. They receive a study guide about a week earlier to complete on their own; the study guide consists of problems that are more or less the same as the problems we do in class/homework. At that point, they may have seen those problems 3 times or more. The reason I give an in class practice exam is because most of my students don’t have great studying or test-taking skills. It forces them to look at what they don’t know; I’ve seen a few of them look at problems and think they understand what’s going on, because they have a solution right in front of them. The practice exam either builds up the confidence of those who have been working diligently or gives the student feedback immediately what they don’t know. In terms of test-taking, it is very different to take a test in a room with other people at an hour you’d rather be asleep than when you’re at home in conditions you set.
  • Exam corrections. I allow for exam corrections on the condition that they provide a good reason why they didn’t get the correct answer. Confusing numbers, adding incorrectly, calculator errors (we have a ton of those), etc. I think in the heat of the moment, they confuse weird little things. They cannot correct problems where they don’t show enough work or if they give a poor reason, like they didn’t study or they didn’t understand the problem. For the students who actually care, they can easily catch their mistakes. For those who do not, they don’t do much.

My system isn’t flawless. For some students, this class is very simple. For the rest, though, they struggle to get a passing grade on the exam even though the practice exam resembles the real exam. With exam corrections, I have to make tough judgments whether the student really understood the problem; I don’t want the exam corrections to turn into a system where the student blows off the exam and then receives full credit for essentially copying notes. A few of them struggle to understand why every problem is not eligible for corrections, but we’re working on that one.

I’m in the process of revamping my test taking policies for the students. I’ve decided that I’m not allowing them to redo most of the diagrams and debating about whether I should allow them to earn extra points for forgetting units. What is your take on what I should do?