You’ve survived the exams! In fact, you feel really good about them, even about that one that everyone else thought was killer. Some time later, you get your results back and *gasp* that exam that you thought you did well on? You didn’t. In fact, your grade is so abysmal that you are starting to wonder if you got someone else’s grade (or the prof/TA mistakenly took away 30%). What do you do? Why you go and look at the exam of course.
While exam viewings are terrific opportunities to improve your grades (both on the exam and for the future), few people use them to their full advantage. So how can you make the most of an exam viewing?
First, recognize the goals to any exam viewing. You want to:
- Make sure there are no mistakes in the tallying and recording of the marks.
- Figure out why you lost your marks and where you made your mistakes.
- Obtain some additional marks.
The first goal is easy to achieve. Go through the exam, look at all of the marks, and make sure they add up to what you and the prof has on record. This is objective because you are NOT to look at how any of the questions are marked or try to dispute the marking (that’s step 3). Simply make sure that there wasn’t an adding or transcribing error somewhere.
After that, move on to goal 2. Go through the entire exam and try to figure out what you did wrong and why you lost marks. At this point, assume the professor or TA (or whomever marked the exam) marked perfectly and that there were no errors with the exam, the marking, or the answer key. Ask yourself:
- Did you get the concept(s) wrong? Are there any gaps in your understanding or knowledge?
- Did you read the question wrong? Did you go off topic? Did you answer the question that was actually asked?
- Did you interpret the question correctly? Did you think it was asking something else?
- Did you make any calculation, copying, or other clerical errors?
- Where there any other problems? For example, were you so nervous you over-complicated or oversimplified the problems?
Knowing what went wrong is crucial. If your course is a full year course (or the exam is a midterm), you’ll need to know what you got wrong so you don’t make the same mistakes on the next exam. This is more important if you made conceptual errors. Even if the course is not a full year course, you may take similar courses in the future or this course may be a pre-requisite for a harder course. Moreover, this is a great chance to figure out if you make any systematic errors. That is, are you always misreading or misinterpreting questions? Do you make lots of silly errors that cost marks? If you do, it may be time to change your exam writing strategies to minimize these errors. I’ve found that the types of systematic errors I made in university weren’t the types I made in high school. Therefore if this is your first set of final exams, it would behoove you to pay attention.
If you don’t understand how you did something wrong or you don’t understand a question, ask your prof to explain it. He or she will be glad to as long as you do not act like it’s their fault you got the question wrong (yes, people actually do that).
After going through all the questions you got wrong and understanding the right answers, you may disagree with some of the marking. In that case, you may wish to ask for some extra marks or submit your exam for re-marking. This is be appropriate if:
- You got the question right (or a part of the question right) and it was marked wrong.
- You are on a borderline mark – for example, between pass/fail or C/B. Do NOT ask for extra marks if you have 98% unless you’re absolutely sure that the question was marked wrong. Otherwise you will be wasting their time and you will look like an obsessive mark grubber.
So how should you ask for extra marks?
- Talk to your professor and show them the question(s) in dispute. Indicate that you understand the marking scheme and why it was marked the wrong.
- Explain why you think you should get more marks. If you think the marking was too harsh, give a solid reason as to why you should get more. Your excuse should not be “well, I just should”.
- If the error was with how you interpreted the question (this is NOT for if you have read the question wrong), explain how and why you interpreted it the way you did. Explain your rationale, especially if the question was somewhat ambiguous. If possible, indicate where you did some scratch work that demonstrated your (somewhat correct) thinking.
You want to appear confident and show that you’ve thought through the questions and the marking. However, coming on too strong will cause your professor or TA to go on the defensive and make them less likely to give extra marks. I believe that most professors and TA’s want their students to do well and would be willing to give extra marks if it can justified (especially if the class average is low). Thus, do the justification for them! As well, while you may be very upset and emotional over the low grade, don’t act it. Avoid hysterics and anger. Attacking them, the exam, or the way the exam is marked will more than annoy them. As well, avoid the pity party and the sympathy card. Also avoid the “I have to get this grade or I will be…” argument. Your prof has heard it all and will think that you’re desperate. Worse yet, they’ll think you’re trying to play them (and no one likes getting played). Be calm, logical, sincere, and above all, don’t put them on the defensive!
As well, if you will be asking for extra marks, pick your “battles” carefully. Focus on the questions where you are most likely to receive the extra marks. This keeps you credible. Asking for extra mark for every question will annoy your prof or TA and also make you look like an obsessive mark grubber. Profs do not like obsessive mark grubbers (who does?) and will not want to help you.
Have a good exam viewing (though I suppose it would be best if you never actually have to use these tips :)) and happy 2012!