My Thoughts on Retakes

All year long, I have offered retakes for students who want to 1) improve their grades (THEIR number one priority), and 2) improve their knowledge of a concept (MY number one priority).  I used this idea from Sam Shah for students to request a retake, and I offered the retakes only during lunch on Fridays.  This streamlined the process and made it predictable for the me and the students alike.

My requirements for a retake were that students do some sort of practice to build their confidence with a concept.  I offered several options for this over the course of the year, starting with suggestions for what they could do (including Khan Academy practice, work with a parent or older sibling, or lunch time help with me–guess which they “said” they did? There was no way for me to verify these for certain), and ending at the current iteration of the process: Google Classroom assignments with embedded Zaption videos that require them to watch and answer questions along the way.  (I checked on the “analytics” of each video to make sure the student actually did the work before allowing the retakes).

While the idea of retakes is great in theory, in practice it didn’t work out so well.  Only a handful of students took advantage of the retakes, and they were usually the students who were already earning an A or B in the class.  I also placed a lot of responsibility (in terms of completing the steps required for the retakes) in the hands of children whose brains are still developing (and their frontal lobes have a lot of “holes” still).  They simply don’t know HOW to take responsibility for this yet, nor do they have the discipline.

Enter, error analysis.

With the last round of assessments, I chose to have the students do error analysis on their mistakes instead of all the work for a retake, due to the quarter ending yesterday. There simply wasn’t enough time for the retake process.

Here are the steps I expected:

1) On binder paper, redo the problems you got incorrect.

2) Next to each problem, explain your original mistake.

3) Staple this to your original test and return to me.

The second step was the most important, and I didn’t accept the error analysis without it or if the sentences a student wrote were too general (“I did the math wrong” instead of “I subtracted 2x from each side of the equation instead of adding 2x to each side”).

When I grade, I use highlighters to color code their mistakes (a la Fawn Nguyen) to start the metacognitive process and hopefully get them thinking about how to fix those mistakes.  (See the photo caption for an explanation of which color means what).


Yellow = process is good, minor calculation error. Pink = process is incorrect (I mark WHERE their first mistake occurred). Blue = not enough work to decide if you know the concept or not.

My favorite brand of highlighters EVER!


My entire grading “pen” repertoire. I often look like Freddy Krueger with markers sticking out from between the fingers of my left hand, ready to grab when I need a specific color.

I didn’t require the error analysis, but made it available for students who weren’t happy with their grades.  I received quite a few on the due date, and most of them had very insightful thoughts regarding their mistakes (I wish I had thought to take pics of some them). Some didn’t write the sentences or gave general statements, in which case I returned their papers for them to fix.

For Quarter 4, I think this is what I will do for students who wish to improve their learning and their grades instead of retakes.  It is much less prep on my part, and it’s a much more valuable learning experience for the students.  After all, teaching them metacognition is one of my goals, and this is the perfect format for that.

3 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Retakes

  1. I started my first year having students retake exams, then I switched to corrections when I realized the headaches it created for me (students scheduling a time for the retake, only having A and B students retake, and the time required for full retakes). I normally have students just write their corrections on the quiz/test in a different color, but there’s something even more powerful about having students describe their mistakes. I sometimes ask a student about his/her mistakes verbally, but I plan to have students describe their mistakes in writing in the future. I definitely think this practice promotes greater error analysis and learning. Thanks for the idea!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve been also having my students retake different assignments this year. My issue has been providing an adequate amount of reteaching before they make a second attempt on the assignment. I’m also running into the problem of those that need to retake might not be willing to do so. Regardless of some of the bumps in the road I feel like this is a worthwhile journey. I’m starting to see a shift in how students reflect on WHY the problem was incorrect instead of just looking at the grade/points on the top of the paper and stuffing the assignment into a folder. This is a positive shift in my mind.

    Do you allow retakes for assignments or just assessments?

    • I only take completion grades for homework, and then at the start of each class we discuss the problems from the night before–using this discussion as formative assessment and a as a re-teaching tool. So, the retakes are only for assessments. However, they can retake as many times as they want up until the end of the grading period.

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