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After Your Exam: Steps to Take for Better Scores and Learning

Got your exam back? Let's talk next steps! From checking your math to saving your exams for the final, here's your go-to guide for post-exam success.

It’s 5 days after your exam and your professor hands it back. You may have the score you pretty much expected and don’t want to think more about it. But you may have done much worse than you expected (or much better). The exam is not necessarily over at this point. Here are some further steps you can take depending on your situation.

1. Check Addition

I recommend EVERYONE check the addition of each question and the total exam score. Particularly in many large classes there can be addition errors for and against you. If you have an error that gives you fewer points than you deserve then carefully write down where the error(s) are and exactly what they are. Approach your professor about their policy in this situation. Correcting an addition error is absolutely noncontroversial and your professor should be happy to do this. I don’t recommend doing  this for a single point but I have seen errors of >10 points that can really affect your standing.

2. Answer Review

I also recommend checking your answer against the official key. In most large universities, a TA will often grade the same question 250 or 300 times, and errors can occur due to fatigue or inattentiveness. If you have a genuine case for having a correct answer that was marked incorrectly then write it on a separate piece of paper along with a brief explanation. Then go to step 3. If there are no major errors you can still learn your deficiencies from this process.

3. Approach Professor

If you have a clear case (or cases) of incorrect grading that would result in more than a point or 2, it is time to go to your professor to ask about these questions. Do not go to them with blame, belligerence and entitlement because they will be very disinclined to help you and give you the benefit of the doubt in future situations. The correct approach is to say. “I’m sorry to bother you but I looked at my exam and the key and I would appreciate if you could explain why I lost points.” If it’s a genuine error than they will often correct it on the spot and raise your score. A very common situation, though, is that you thought you put the same answer as the key but your professor can point out to you that you indeed have the wrong answer and why the right answer is different. In that case you have learned something valuable. If you have several genuine errors and your professor hasn’t offered to regrade it then ask politely for a regrade. 

4. Seek Clarification

If you are very disappointed or surprised by an unexpectedly low score then you should also go to see your professor. After each of my exams I always invite the class as a whole to come see me to go through their exam individually to offer advice and insight into what they did wrong and how to do better next time. There are some very common problems that can, when fixed, have a truly miraculous effect on performance. One very common problem in 1st semester is that a person skips learning how to draw correct structures and is constantly losing points at every turn. Another common problem is not learning what your professor teaches you both accurately and well. People can sometimes spend most of their time watching outside videos with extraneous and incorrect material and totally ignoring what their professor taught them.

5. Save Exams

Do not throw away your exams or quizzes. Use these as the way to review for the old material that will be lightly covered on the final. If you can write your old midterms and quizzes blind and ace while you study for finals then you are probably well prepared for the final exam.

And there you have it—your exam journey doesn’t end when you hand in your paper! By following these steps, you’re not just potentially boosting your scores; you’re turning every exam into a stepping stone for academic growth and success. Whether it’s by double-checking your math, seeking clarity, or saving your exams for future review, each action you take brings you closer to understanding and mastering the material. So, keep those exams close, approach your professor with curiosity, and remember, every exam offers a chance to learn and improve. Here’s to making the most out of your exams, one step at a time!

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Dr. B Tips

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