How To: Check Test And Exam Papers

Tests and exams are the bane of school life, and for many students, checking their answers is akin to reliving the agony of a test all over again. Yet, checking is a vital step that can help students retrieve precious marks lost to careless errors. How can we guide our children to do this efficiently?

Teacher Michael Friermood recommends breaking down the task of checking one’s work into three levels. In the first level, best used where time is short, students check their papers to see if they’ve answered every question. In the second, students read the questions again and check that their answers “make sense.” In the third, students rework problems from scratch. Teaching students to apply different “levels of checking” under different conditions, he says, has worked well for math and can be applied to other subjects too. (Read his post here.)

Another strategy is to keep track of tricky questions—by circling or starring them—so one can return to these questions later and reassess if the best answer has been selected. For math, students can try using a different strategy to derive the answer when attempting a question for the second time, as this avoids reliance on a potentially faulty problem-solving method. Alternatively, students can work “backwards” using their answers, to see if they can obtain the original values provided by the question. (Find more strategies for taking math tests here.)

For science, students should check that they have used the proper scientific terms to answer open-ended questions. For instance, in a question on digestion, students should be able to say that food has been broken down into “simpler substances,” and not “smaller parts” or “smaller pieces.” They should also ensure that they have correctly identified what the question requires of them—do they list characteristics, identify parts, or supply an explanation? Questions requiring explanations are where most students falter. (For more pointers on tackling science papers, watch the videos here and here.) 

Mother and former proofreader Evelyn Tan-Rogers shares the following checking methods adapted from her work with publications such as Reader’s Digest, which she has advised her own daughter to follow, particularly when sitting for English and composition papers:  

Read aloud all text that needs to be checked—this can be done softly and discreetly. At the same time, use a pencil (or finger) to run over each word as it is being read. By looking at the words and hearing them at the same time, common errors such as missing words or repeated words (e.g. “the the”) will quickly become apparent.

Pause at tricky words like “they’re/their” or “it’s/its.” Some contractions can be confusing, so read them out in full (e.g. “they are” or “it is”) to make sure the right word is being used.

Know where errors lurk—in a composition, there may be more careless errors leading up to a story’s conclusion, perhaps because a student has run out of steam or is rushing to complete a piece. One must also account for reader fatigue, which may prevent students from spotting errors towards the tail end of a paper. If students have time for multiple rounds of checking, try this after a thorough check has taken place: Scan the script from back to front, for the sole purpose of catching mistakes that may have been missed earlier.

Avoid multi-tasking. Ideally, there should be a different objective for each round of checks, although this is subject to available time. For instance, a first-round check for compositions can be focused on weeding out spelling and grammar errors, while a second-round check is an opportunity to ensure the story is free from lapses in logic.

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