Almost Perfect

More strategies for a classroom policy allowing students to retake exams for 100% credit


The decision to allow students to retake exams, in fact, every conversation about the classroom should be motivated by learning. Always remember that.

Lately, I was grappling with the question: "Is a full exam retake necessary and effective for each student whose score is almost perfect?" The question came up because, invariably, every class has those students who earn a 94% but still want to retake the exam and shoot for 100%. I will always allow this, but recently I was wondering if a retake is the best way to earn that extra 6%. I asked myself, "What would help this person increase his or her understanding from nearly perfect to perfect?" For such a student, I think retaking the exam is too mechanical, a trivial item on some checklist to achieve perfection. By contrast, I've heard it said you've never truly mastered something until you can teach it.

After my most recent class exam, the distribution of grades looked something like this :

  • Perfect scores: 10%
  • Imperfect A's:  20%
  • B's: 15%
  • C's: 30%
  • D's and F's: 25%

The day I passed out the scored exams, I pulled the top 30% aside (I had reviewed their exams to verify each had demonstrated an understanding of every concept, even if he or she had made a technical error or two) and I offered a deal: "How would you like to earn 100% without having to retake your exam?" They were all ears. I then explained that before class had started, I had prepared groups and assigned each of them to lead one group in review the exam. By being leaders, I would compensate them with the points needed to have a 100. (I offered extra credit to the few who already had a perfect score.) Furthermore,  I told the students they could look over their own exams for five minutes but they could not consult it while they were peer tutoring. I did not want the tutees copying and I wanted the tutors to explain from their understanding alone.

This turned out to be a huge win. The student leaders were proud of their accomplishment and recognition as well as motivated to help others. The students receiving the tutoring loved the focused attention. The students in between were given a homework that they could work on in class, but many of them decided to participate in the tutoring instead.  The period was entirely productive. Furthermore, on a more practical note, by giving an alternative to a few students, I cut down on the amount of grading I later had to do after theretake. This strategy is definitely one I will reuse.

If you have a strategy for assessing students, please leave a comment!