It’s such a shame that in our culture testing has such a bad name.
The dad of one of my students is a physician; he recalls that:
Medical school is all about being tested. We were constantly quizzing, taking tests, and flipping flash cards (each flash card is a tiny test). We were tested multiple times every day. All that testing made our minds sharp, plus it kept us aware of the areas we still needed to work on. It was a powerful way to learn.
Learning expert Annie Murphy Paul explains why tests work so well:
…tests are an enormously effective way to improve understanding and recall….Decades of research on the “testing effect” have documented that calling up a fact or a concept from memory actually helps us remember it better the next time.
She reminds us that “It’s not how much you practice but whether you’re quick to fix your errors that leads to mastery.” In order for practice to be effective, she stresses, it must be deliberate; that is, you need to be constantly evaluating your performance, locating your weak spots and mistakes, and then concentrating your efforts on strengthening those particular areas.
This can be an especially painful process for American students, who tend to interpret every grade and test score as a personal criticism and judgment on self-worth (I’m a failure!, instead of I need to work more on this skill). This “fixed mindset” makes every wrong answer a sting to the ego and makes students recoil from the remedial work they need to do.
Instead, we ought to appreciate scores for what they were originally intended to be: helpful feedback that tells us what we need to study more of.
Here’s what to do when you get any test back:
- Re-work any problems you got wrong. If you don’t understand something, learn the material now by using your notes and textbook, or by asking the teacher or a skilled friend.
- If the teacher goes over the material in class, wait a day or two and re-do the problems yourself. Cover up the solutions and peek only as needed.
- Do your work on paper! Don’t just look at the solution and think I get it now; your brain needs the learning experience of actually picking up a pencil and physically redoing the problem correctly.
And what about those English and history papers? When my students get their papers back, I help them read through and process the teacher comments.
And as I do so, I’m moved by the huge investment of time and care teachers invest in writing targeted, insightful and potentially helpful comments…which, let’s face it, most kids then never read (unless they got an A; those students savor every ego-boosting word!).
The lower the grade at the bottom of the page, the quicker the paper gets stuffed into the bottom of the backpack, which is a shame, because what teachers are hoping is that students will spend at least as much time pouring over and digesting those comments as the teachers took to compose them.
- When you get a paper back, carefully read the teacher’s comments, and then rewrite each item according to the teacher’s recommendations.
- Just reading the comments is NOT enough to entrench the learning into your brain; you need to use pencil and paper (or computer) and actually rewrite the imperfect parts for practice.
I know, I know…it’s really hard to develop the self-discipline required to take these steps. But this is the way to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. Plus, you’ll be way ahead in preparation for the final exam!
It’s also the way to foster a Growth Mindset, in which you are not wounded by constructive criticism but instead embrace it as news you can use to improve yourself. It’s one of the best life skills you could have!