Learning from Your Exam Performance

“F” doesn’t stand for Failure. It stands for Feedback. –unknown

When you earn a lower-than-expected grade on an evaluation, the last thing you might want to do is spend time with the test, quiz, paper, or lab report. The low grade might be perceived as who you are when really it is the result you produced.

If your goal is to improve your performance, you need to review the evaluation carefully, not just for content (the right answers), but more importantly for what was not effective about the process that you used to prepare for the exam.

You cannot know what to fix if you do not know what is broken in your test preparation process.  Developing an appreciation for the fact that you lost points as the result of how, what, and when you studied (all elements within your control!) will suggest the changes necessary to produce a satisfactory grade on the next evaluation.

Try the following approach, which uses techniques that athletes, musicians, actors, and other performers regularly employ to improve their results.  Using a previous exam as an example:

Look at the first question you got wrong. Determine:

  1. What is the topic of the question? (It is about supply and demand.)
  2. Did I recognize the topic when I was taking the test? (Yes.)
  3. Where did the information come from? (It was in my notes, text, or readings.)
  4. When did I study this material? (I studied it a little the night before the exam.)
  5. How did I study this material? (I looked it over and made a flash card.)
  6. Did I understand the concept when I studied it? (Kind of.)
  7. Why did I get this question wrong? (I couldn’t quite remember the answer.)
  8. What would I have needed to do to get this question right?    (I needed to begin studying sooner so that I could review all materials more thoroughly.)
  9. What will I do differently for the next exam? (Begin studying sooner and try some different memory techniques.)

When you break down your performance on this question, as it is done above, you begin to see how you could have produced a different result by preparing differently.  You might observe that you need to explore different study techniques which would allow you to begin studying earlier in the process.  You didn’t get this question wrong because you are not smart enough, but because you need to change the way you study to be more effective.

This is the goal of evaluating each wrong answer. You are not simply noting the right answer, but are identifying the process that would have produced the right answer. When utilized, this technique can dramatically improve grades, while creating a more realistic, hopeful perception that you can improve your grades by altering your preparation process.