# 9.8: Evaluating Results

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However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results. —Winston Churchill

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

• Identify the learning benefits of test taking
• Identify strategies for learning from mistakes and from doing poorly on tests or exams

## Learning from Testing and Test Results[1]

Earlier in this module we discussed strategies for taking tests and for reducing the anxiety that can accompany them. We also touched on some reasons why tests are such a central part of the educational experience: namely, they yield important learning data that instructors and administrators can use to improve teaching and education. You may be thinking, “Well, I’m glad to help out and provide my valuable ‘learning data,’ but what about me? Tests still seem like a cruel exercise designed to torment students and stress them out.”

In this section we offer a response to that thought: believe it or not, testing benefits you, too. Consider the following:[2]

• You may learn more when you take a test than when you study for it or are just taught the material. For example, if you are asked to learn five formulas for a math test, you will likely remember the three formulas you are actually tested on better than the others.
• When you are tested—especially often—it encourages you to study more and procrastinate less.
• The more you retrieve information, as you do during a test or quiz, the more likely you are to retain it in the long run.
• Taking a test helps your brain organize knowledge better, and that helps you retrieve the knowledge more efficiently.

So, testing is not just a method of measuring how much you know (or torturing you). It can actually help you learn. In addition, the results of a test—even when you don’t do very well—can also enhance your learning in valuable ways.

## Learning from Mistakes

Two of the most important messages that students hear from teachers is “Don’t be afraid to fail” and “Learn from your mistakes—yours, mine, and ours.” The following TedEd talk explores these familiar ideas. The speaker, Diana Laufenberg, makes the case for why learning through experience, feeling empowered, and embracing failure are all so important to students—so much more so than just going to school to get information. You can download a transcript of the video here.

The idea of “learning from one’s mistakes” seems straightforward enough . . . but how does one actually do it? After all, who isn’t disappointed to get a low grade on anything—a test, a quiz, a paper, a project? We all want to do well. Consider the following college students evaluating their own performance:

I recently took a general biology exam and I was so certain that I got all questions right—that I got a 100 percent on the exam. Then I found out this morning that I got a 94 percent! And what annoys me more than the grade is the fact that my mistakes were dumb. Why did I make dumb mistakes? The tests are timed and I don’t have much time to check my answers.[3]

I’m so mad at myself. I’ve tried everything, I come back to look at the answer after I’ve completed the rest of the test. I go over the answers carefully. It seems as though no matter what I do I can’t catch my mistakes. I just did it on an accounting test. I missed one question because I didn’t notice the answer was “All of the above.” I have the same problem in another class.

At times we can be hard on ourselves, especially if we feel we could have done better. Learning from mistakes takes practice and reinforcement. As Diana Laufenberg pointed out in her Ted Talk, mistakes can be one of the most important events that happen in a classroom, because they tell you where you need to focus next.[4]

After you get over the disappointment of making a mistake in the first place, the next step is to home in on why you made it. That’s the learning opportunity. Below are some tips for following up on—and addressing—a range of errors that students commonly make on exams and other assessments.

## Reflection and Further Study

For some additional guidance on what to do in the event of failure and how to proceed with your studies, watch Dr. Stephen Chew’s video I Blew The Exam—Now What?

Chew emphasizes the following points:

What not to do:

• Don’t panic
• Don’t go into denial

What to do:

• Do examine how you prepared; be honest with yourself
• Do review the exam; compare errors with notes taken
• Do talk with your professor
• Do examine your study habits
• Do develop a plan

• Commit time and effort
• Minimize distractions
• Attend class
• Set realistic goals
• Don’t begin to slide
• Don’t give away points

Don’t be the student who . . .

• Keeps studying the same way, hoping to improve
• Waits until the end of the term to ask for help
• Skips class to focus on other classes
• Falls further behind waiting to find time to catch up
• Crams at the last minute
• Doesn’t do assignments because they are small or late
• Panics and gives up

### Activity: Learn from Returned Tests

#### Objective

• Identify strategies for learning from mistakes and from doing poorly on tests or exams

#### Directions

• Visit Duquesne University’s Web site, Help Students to Learn from Returned Tests. It has exam wrappers, post-test surveys, and error-analysis exercises you can use to help you learn from returned exams and perform better on future tests.
• Keep in mind this sage advice: “All too often when students receive a graded exam, they focus on a single feature—the score they earned. Although this focus on ‘the grade’ is understandable, it can lead students to miss out on several learning opportunities that such an assessment can provide.” (Ambrose, et al, 2010)

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