An earned “golden” ticket to rewrite

I always start my senior level classes by asking them this question: “When you’re out of high school, regardless of where you are going, who is going to be responsible for you?” For some, it is the first time they have thought about the fact that from now on they will truly have to take ownership of their education. Many of us have stories to share with our students about how half of their first-year university class failed or dropped out. It usually wasn’t because they weren’t able to do the work — it was because they didn’t have the work habits to succeed.

I tell my students that I hope they will learn more in my class than just how to do some new math, but that they will also start to understand their role as responsible students. So when it came to the idea of test rewrites, 
I felt it was important to instill that same sense of responsibility. I have designed a test rewrite policy so students can rewrite one test question for the semester. Students see it as a “gift”, but what they are actually getting is experience in taking ownership of their learning. The goal is to develop both students’ work habits and time management skills.

My policy on test rewrites has gone through several stages before I finally settled on the one I use now. It has ranged from “none, ever” to “anything you feel you can do better on”. The problem was that both approaches were unrealistic. School is a place where students are supposed to make — and learn from — their mistakes. It didn’t feel fair to give them zero opportunity to do that, but on the other extreme, the knowledge of a rewrite can lead to zero effort since they know they’ll get a second crack at it. 

I decided there needed to be some kind of "barrier to entry". Students had to "earn" their rewrite opportunity, so that it held some meaning for them. Not only would this stop students from simply expecting a second chance as an entitlement, — I once had a student spend an entire test period scribbling the word “rewrite” about 100 times on his test — but it would hopefully develop their work habits along the way.

What I decided was the most important thing was for students to self-evaluate their performance and see for themselves why things went the way they did. Why did you fail that question? What should you have done differently? Saying "I don't know" was not acceptable ... they needed to explain why they didn't know. Did they do too little work, or not seek extra help?  

Essentially, I felt it was important for them to review their own performance as a student — did they do what they were supposed to do, and if not, could they explain why things went wrong? And, having identified exactly what the problem was, what changes would they make to their approach in the future?

Then and only then would I allow them to rewrite a portion of their most recent test — not the whole test — targeting the area of need. Allowing a partial rewrite for only a single test for the entire term forced students to think long and hard about when it was worth using. Students who are used to getting 90% but get 80% on one test might be tempted to use their rewrite, but must consider the possibility that the next test’s grade could be even lower. This forces them to self-evaluate. 

In practice, each student is given a coloured piece of paper with instructions (next page). I then initial the page in a different (unusual) colour of ink. This combination is done to make it hard to photocopy. Students must use the original, requiring them to hang onto the handout until they are ready to use it. If they lose it, they have demonstrated a lack of responsibility and have forfeited their chance during the semester at a rewrite. For some students keeping a handout for an entire semester is the challenge. 

Students are allowed to take their tests home and work on the re-written question, which needs to be submitted at the start of the period the following day. I do not post the test answers until the following day. I inform them that I know they can find someone else in the class to help them with the answer, but in doing so, I believe they are demonstrating resourcefulness, teamwork and initiative. Often, it encourages students to interact with peers they would never have spoken to otherwise. 

My ulterior motive for making them take it home is to reinforce the need to take ownership. If I forced them to rewrite it in front of me, it would become just one more thing that I am responsible for, not them. By taking it home, it becomes something they have to remember to do and for which they must take time out of their own schedule. This gets to time management skills and taking ownership of their learning. And that is, after all, the goal. Twenty years from now, it likely won’t matter whether they know how to factor a quadratic function or can identify all the elements on the periodic table, but they will hopefully have the resourcefulness to know where to look to find these things, the time management skills to work it into their schedule and the responsibility to know when they have made a mistake and how to learn from it.

Golden ticket to rewrite 

a golden ticket to rewrite You may use this sheet ONLY ONCE during the semester. Once you have used it, you may not do so again. Replacements will NOT be provided, so KEEP IT SOMEWHERE SAFE!  Printable PDF for Golden Ticket to Rewrite

By using this sheet, you will be permitted to choose any ONE question from the recent test, and re-write that answer to be re-submitted and re-marked. Your grade for that test will be updated accordingly.

Conditions of use:

  1. When you decide to use it, it may be handed in ONLY on the VERY NEXT DAY after a test is returned to the class. You may not decide a week or a month later to go back and use it on an old test.
  2. All parts of this sheet must be answered out FULLY.
  3. This completed sheet must be stapled to the original test, and submitted together. DO NOT make changes to the original test.
  • Re-write, in full, the question that you wish to re-submit, including any tables or graphs.
  • Explain, in 1-2 sentences, why the answer you originally provided was wrong. You may not simply say, “I didn't know how”, or “I left it blank”. Why didn't you know? Why did you leave it blank? Did you not study that material, or was the homework incomplete? Should you have come in for extra help on that topic?
  • Will this affect how you prepare for tests in the future? How?
  • Write a new, complete answer to the question you selected in #1. It must include all steps and cannot assume that the reader will look back at what was originally written on the old test. This new answer will replace the answer you originally wrote on the test, and your mark will be adjusted accordingly.