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Test retakes

February 3, 2017

A year and a half ago after reading a couple of blogs about testing and retakes, I thought I would try it.  My reasoning was that this might encourage students to study the material better for the second attempt.  With many of the tests, but not all, I provide the students with feedback on the skills tested and how they did on each skill.  I have constructed spreadsheets to help me generate this data.  From this effort, I have arrived at a few impressions.

First, the students’ enthusiasm for retakes does not match the number of students who show up.  When I announce the opportunity for a retake in class, the enthusiasm suggests at least two-thirds of the students will take the test, but the total who take the retake usually come closer to one-third on the first retake.  As the semester progresses, the number who avail themselves of this opportunity decreases.

A concern with giving the retake is that the test will be fresh enough in the students’ minds that they will be able to remember the test and do better based on memory.  While I can’t explore their brains or memories, the results indicate that this concern is unfounded.  While some continue to make the same mistakes, others make new mistakes.

I would think that the weaker students would find this a welcome opportunity to try to improve their grades.  They get a chance to pass the test after they failed it the first time.  However, many of the students who take the retake are trying to raise Bs to As or Cs to Bs.  The ones most in need of the additional push are less enthusiastic about taking the retake.

Finally, the results so far show mixed improvements.  A little over half of the students improve from one test to another, a few do the same or nearly the same, and a small number do worse.  Few students do well enough to increase their scores to move up a grade level such as from a C to a B.

Still, I plan to continue with the retakes to give the students interested in the opportunity a chance.  It seems to help many of the students who do it while at least getting most to review the materials, that is, except for the few who appear to think that maybe their luck will change with the retake.


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