1. Where you went wrongWhenever you earn a bad grade (which we hope is not often), the first step is to figure out exactly what happened that hurt your grade. There may be a simple explanation. Before looking into deeper reasons, double-check that you followed all instructions. Did you give an answer but forget to explain how you arrived there? For free response questions, did you write the minimum number of required words or sentences? If it was a math problem you got wrong, was your answer in the right format (fraction, decimal, percentage, etc.), and did you include the formula you used? Making sense of certain mistakes can be as easy as rereading the directions. In other cases, there may be a different reason you earned a low score. Many times, you will immediately know why: you ran out of time, did not study much, or were tired when you took the test. Try to recall what went on in your mind during the test, as well as what took place the days before it. If you really do not understand why your grade is low, ask your teacher to explain or show you an evaluation rubric that he or she used. You cannot improve on your next assessment unless you know what you did wrong!
2. Why the right answers are rightAside from understanding why an answer is wrong, you should know what makes another answer right. For example, imagine you took a quiz on the parts of speech. You indicated that “moving” was a verb—and although it can be, on the test it was actually used as an adjective. In the sentence, “Sarah had to go through all her moving boxes,” that word is acting as an adjective to the word, “boxes.” Go through the answers you got wrong and correct them all. Do not only indicate the right answer, but also give a brief explanation of why that answer is the right one. Simply glancing over your results is not sufficient; you must actively learn from your mistakes. By taking notes and marking up your graded test, you will be preparing for future tests. In theory, you should be able to retake the assessment and perform much better the second time.
3. What to change for next timeNow that you have reflected on where you went wrong and what the right answers are, it is time to evaluate your plan of attack for next time. What could you do to improve for the future? Should you try a different note-taking technique, set aside more time for sleep, or attend an extra help session? Do you need to work on time management? Should you have brainstormed for your essay rather than jumping right into it with no thought beforehand? An effective plan of attack will target your weakest areas and identify how to make them stronger. One of the best ways to prepare for cumulative tests is by dedicating extra time and effort to problematic areas. You can make a review sheet that highlights the areas that were hardest for you, or, you can cut out the questions you missed and paste them into your notebook or another place you will look at when you study. This way, you will not repeat your errors. Do not fall prey to the exhausting emotions of guilt and regret. Even the brightest of students get bad grades in school. Although you are allowed to mess up, you certainly want to keep bad grades behind you. With a smart and personalized study plan, you are sure to do better next time!
Tiffany Sorensen is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.