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The Campanile

Retaking tests emphasizes learning over memorizing


By now, the academic learning routine is fairly simple: introduce and learn the new curriculum, study the content, take a test on the material, reread, relearn and repeat. Because of the constant influx of tests across all subject matters in limited increments of time, many students have ultimately adopted study habits that maximize efficiency at the cost of forfeiting deeper understanding of the material.

With assignments, tests, projects and homework piling up every week, it is often more convenient for students to solely develop a surface-level understanding of concepts sufficient for upcoming tests.

Since there is no current motivation or incentive for students to develop a lasting, profound understanding of the topic, many simply take the test, brush it off and move on — disregarding any need to truly understand the information for the long-term. This method can be satisfactory if the end goal for students is to simply perform well on a single test, but other measures can be taken in order to ensure that knowledge is retained for the long-term, and that students are actually learning the material rather than simply regurgitating it.

Currently, tests are typically administered only once, and the score received on this single test is the one that is entered in the grade book for that unit, topic or subject. This format makes test-taking a way for the teacher, student and parents to determine how well the student understands the material. In general, tests can be effective ways for students to demonstrate and assess their knowledge on the topic. While this form of assessment is certainly necessary for students to illustrate how much they have learned, test-taking can be reformed to not only assess student’s current understanding of the topic, but also to encourage students to gradually build and refine their understanding for the long-term.

In order to solidify long-term learning’s presence in the testing process, teachers can offer retake tests multiple times after the first version of the exam has been administered.

First of all, offering retakes can give the students who have the motivation to study and learn the material over a longer period of time the opportunity to redeem themselves after a poor test score. A student’s performance on a single, given day can often be misrepresentative of their true knowledge,  and a student who is willing to retake the test and review the material once more will eventually benefit from the continuous review.

By offering future opportunities for students to improve their grade, teachers give students an incentive to relearn and revisit old topics. Once a student has returned to a topic, they have already been exposed to the information multiple times, and this repetition can improve the student’s capacity to remember that information in the future.

A grading system that uses multiple retakes also encourages students to develop healthy study habits, where they can benefit from studying the content over time and continue to refine their understanding of the topic. While students may inevitably procrastinate on their work, having this revised grading system rewards students for studying small pieces of material in separate instances and can ultimately be beneficial and deter students from cramming a large amount of information in a short amount of time.

In addition, if allowed to take future retake exams, student can utilize the tests they have already taken to highlight which topics that they already have a firm grasp on, and which topics that they need to pay more attention to.

By granting students the chance to use each test as a learning experience, with a clearer understanding of what needs to be reviewed, tests can become not only a means of assessing students’ knowledge of the topic but also a way to transform test taking into a learning experience.

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