My weekends during midterms were spent in Gelman Library frantically flipping through notes and guzzling coffee. Midterm exams are never fun, but they’re much worse when you get your exam back and don’t understand why you received the grade you did.
It took a week for one of my professors to grade all of the midterm exams and hand them back. When I opened my blue book, all I saw was a score and about four or five one-word comments. I was confused, to say the least. I spent two weeks reviewing the course material and filled up multiple pages in my blue book during the short answer and essay exam, but all I got back was my exam grade and a couple of check marks and unclear numbers. I flipped through my blue book to see if there was a short paragraph anywhere that explained what I did well and what I could improve on, but I found nothing. I left class upset that I spent days preparing for the test only to see it returned with grading that seemed to require little effort. Although my professor may have spent time grading my exam, it didn’t show.
When taking a midterm exam, especially if it is made up of mostly open-ended questions, professors should be required to give students at least a paragraph of written feedback accompanying the grade. This feedback should include an explanation of how students can improve and what their strengths were on the exam. Written feedback is essential for students because it helps them gain a better understanding of not only the current course material, but also how they can improve before the next exam and even future courses.
GW needs to put a greater emphasis on learning, not grades, and written feedback on tests would be a good first step in that direction. Without feedback, students can only see a letter grade or a random number of points for each short answer or essay question, which can only tell them that they are studying the wrong way or need go to office hours. Although short comments can provide information on a specific issue, a few comments here and there don’t address the work as a whole.
A study by the Review of Educational Research found that the most beneficial feedback explains to students what they’re doing right or wrong, and a few shorthand comments may not be able to capture what a student needs to work on. This is why professors at GW need to provide a paragraph of feedback at the end of every exam that goes into detail about the student’s work, rather than a few one-word comments in the margins.
Some may argue that students don’t pay attention to feedback and that if they really care, they should go to the professor’s office hours. But I believe that students do care about the feedback they receive and a professor’s comments should be specific enough for a student to understand what they’re doing wrong. That way, students are motivated to ask more comprehensive questions and push themselves to improve.
Written feedback is also more time efficient. If a professor provides fairly extensive feedback on the exam itself, then students can use office hours to ask questions about the course material and discuss strategies to improve in the course. This would be changing the efficiency of office hours because instead of a student asking why they received that specific score, students can ask how to make improvements in their test-taking strategies.
Written feedback shows students that learning is still the priority in a time when GPA reigns. Providing students with a short feedback paragraph on exams encourages them to care about what they’re learning and allows professors to show that they genuinely care about how students do in their classes. If professors continue to hand back exams with little to no feedback, then students will continue to be confused and discouraged, and that could derail their drives to succeed in class.
Saara Navab, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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