Help Students Learn from their Mistakes

Nov 20 2013

Testing is primarily used for assessment purposes. It is a way for a teacher to determine if students have mastered the required material. After exams are graded they are often returned to the students with the intention that students will review their incorrect answers and understand their errors. In reality, most students just look at their grade and file the exam away. They never follow through to understand what they did wrong or to learn the concept they missed.

Rather than reviewing exams in class and providing students with the correct answer, have students make “corrections” on their exam. This strategy will help to ensure that they not only understand why their answer was incorrect but also better understand the concepts. When making corrections, require the students to provide the following:

  • the correct response
  • a detailed explanation as to how they derived their answer. This includes all steps and calculations (if applicable to your discipline)
  • a detailed explanation of any relevant concepts
  • for multiple choice questions, an explanation as to why all of the other choices are incorrect.

Consider assigning a point value to this exercise, and allowing the students to earn some extra credit on their exam. For example, each question that is corrected, with detailed explanations, might earn back 1/3 the original number of points. As a result, students will be more likely to engage in this activity and complete the assignment.


To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.

Cecile M. Roberti
Assistant Professor
Community College of Rhode Island
Department of Business Administration

Author: francine_glazer