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Pointers for Reviewing Your Exams

Now that grades have been distributed, you may be wondering what went wrong and some of you are wondering what went right.

The big question is what to do now. There really is no way around it: you need to look at your exams. That may mean coming into contact with a professor who you would prefer never to see again, but that is the way to learn the most from the experience.

You may have a whole host of reasons why you do not want to meet with your professors. So, here are some rebuttals in advance to the top five most common excuses.

Excuse 1: You are embarrassed.
Keep in mind that most professors do not take your grade personally. You shouldn't either.

Excuse 2: You do not want the professor to know who you are.
The professor will be glad that you are motivated to do better, and will be happy to help a student who shows a strong desire to improve.

Excuse 3: You just want to move on.
Putting the past behind you is a good approach; however, you need to nail down what went right and what went wrong so that you can start this semester with a positive frame of reference. There are many reasons someone might not do well on a final exam, and there are different ways for improving based on what needs improvement. For example, if you see that the professor wrote “too conclusory” on your final exam, you will know that you need to work on expanding your analysis section before reaching a final conclusion. Or, if you see that you did not get any points for a particular analysis, it may be because you analyzed the wrong issue, so you know that you will need to work on your ability to spot the correct issues on future exams.

Excuse 4: You are sure you know which questions you did poorly on.
You would be surprised at the number of students who are mistaken about their exam performance. You will not know for sure which questions you did well on and which ones you did poorly on until you look at your exams. Imagine how horrible this semester will be if the things you thought you did right, you did wrong, and you unwittingly repeat those mistakes.

Excuse 5: The exam won't have any comments that make sense to me.
Your exam may not have comments on it, but some professors will supply a “sample answer” or a checklist of issues that should have been discussed. If this is the case, you can compare what you wrote to the sample or the checklist and see what was missing.  If your exam has no comments, and your professor did not supply a sample answer or a checklist, you can meet with your professor and get an explanation of how your particular exam was graded.

What exams should you look at?

You should look at those you thought you would do well in but didn't, and, if you have time, look at those you did well in.

How do I go about it?

Most professors will make their exams available during the exam review period, which usually takes place at the start of the next semester.  Some professors, however, will require that you come to their office to pick it up and return it to them when you are finished; others will require that you read the exam in their office with them present.

What to look for when reviewing your exam?

1) Look at the point totals to see how you did overall. Did you have trouble with one particular question or did you perform fairly evenly on each question?

2) Look for patterns. Did you do poorly on all first questions/last questions. Did you allocate time well, have initial jitters, or did fatigue set in?

3) Are there certain types of questions you did better on? How did you do on the policy questions? The issue-spotting questions? Multiple choice? What skills should you concentrate on improving?

4) Focus on content. Did you really know the law? Did you state it correctly and thoroughly? Did you apply the facts to the law? Did you come to a conclusion too quickly without first exploring all the possibilities raised by the facts?

5) Use THIS CHECKLIST when reviewing your exams to help pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses on each exam.

Should you talk to your professor?

In most cases, the answer is yes. But, unless there's a mathematical error, don't think that doing that will change your grade. Your goal in talking to your professor should be to understand what you did right and what you did wrong--not to argue.

Before you set up an appointment to discuss substance, make sure you have read your exam and have formulated questions in advance. Check you answer against your outline to see if you can spot missed issues. Tell your professor which issues you found after the fact and see if your list is complete. Pick a question and describe the type of answer you gave. See what else the professor wanted in the answer.

What else should I do if I think I really bombed?

The Academic Support Program can work with you to improve your exam taking skills. Talk to Danielle Bifulci Kocal or Elizabeth Corwin about what you think went wrong, and they can help you develop a study strategy to correct the problem so that you do not repeat it on your finals the next semester.