The Importance of Post Exam Review

Learning Commons Perspectives

By Cristina Kerluke, Academic Support Program Specialist

The Importance of Post Exam Review

When you receive a graded exam back from your professor, what do you do with it?

Many students spend a considerable amount of time preparing for exams, but often do not take time to reflect on exam information, giving no further thought to the exam other than the grade received. Critically reviewing an exam can yield useful information to help you grow and develop as an independent learner.

Analyzing returned exams can help you understand why you made errors, so that you can adjust your approach the next time you are assessed. If your goal is to improve your performance, you will need to review the evaluation carefully, not just for content (the right answers), but more importantly, for what was not effective about your preparation. Developing an appreciation for the fact that you lost points as the result of how, what, and when you studied, all elements within your control, will suggest the changes necessary to produce improved results on your next evaluation. 

8  Steps To Reviewing A Returned Exam

  1. Check the point total to make sure it is right. You never know, you may even find a few missing points.
  2. Know what questions you missed and WHY you got them wrong. The reason you missed the question is extremely important. Was it a careless mistake, did you not understand the question or did you not know enough to answer it correctly? 
  3. Study the instructor’s comments (especially for essay questions) so that you will know what is expected for next time. If you don’t understand comments, ask your instructor for clarification.
  4. Learn what types of questions that the instructor likes to use. You will likely see similar types on future assessments.
  5. Learn the source of the questions you missed. Did the information come from the text, lecture or both? 
  6. Correct your mistakes to better understand concepts, as related material will likely appear on a later exam and/or the final.
  7. Review exam content as a form of retrieval practice, relating concepts to what you are currently learning in class. 
  8. Reflect on when and how you prepared for the exam. What strategies did you use?

Some professors will take time to do an “exam debrief” in class. You can also do this with peers from class, or ask to meet with the professor during office hours. After you have conducted your analysis, determine what action you need to take to improve your performance on your next exam. Was your exam grade an accurate reflection of your knowledge and the time you spent preparing? What can you do to improve your learning experience before your next exam? Consider the following:

  • Are you Attending Class With Purpose? Showing up is only one step (though clearly an important one!) of the process. Learning requires action. Are you paying full attention, completing assigned readings and taking effective notes? 
  • When did you begin preparing for the exam? Although it is tempting to wait until the night before an exam to begin your studying, don’t do it! Cramming four chapters of information into one evening of study time does not make for an effective study session. Spaced practice, as discussed in last week’s article, is an effective “multiple-swipe” approach that helps build memory and understanding. Try to find multiple shorter times throughout your week to practice.  
  • Where did you prepare? If your study location is not a space where you can maximize your productivity, then consider trying a new spot. Manage your learning environment to improve attention, reduce distractions, and be as productive as possible.
  • How did you prepare? Now is a great time to explore different strategies to become an effective learner, using AGILE strategies to increase your memory and performance. Have you tried connecting concepts using flashcards or creating a mindmap
  • Have you created your Personal Learning Network at USM? As we discussed in Week 4, a well-designed Personal Learning Network can improve your learning experience, generate knowledge, sharpen understanding, and build memory, all more efficiently and effectively than learning alone. Seek opportunities to meet with faculty, create a study group with your peers, and/or schedule an appointment to meet with a tutor at the Learning Commons. 

If your professor does not return exams, consider making an appointment to discuss your exam in person during office hours. Remember this is an opportunity to improve future performance and discover more about your own learning process. Visit usm.maine.edu/agile for additional strategies, printable resources and a schedule of upcoming workshops. 

Check out our Learning Commons Facebook page for the winner of our most recent poll. Stay tuned for our next poll coming soon for a chance to win AGILE swag!

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