On Students Grading Their Own Tests

In the “why didn’t I think of this before” category: my students now grade their own quizzes. No, they don’t get to give themselves whatever mark they want.  Here’s how it goes.

I used to learn a ton from going over their tests with a fine toothed comb, trying to figure out what they were having trouble with.  It finally dawned on me that I didn’t need that learning opportunity nearly as much as my students did. So my students now do quizzes like this.

  1. Write quiz.
  2. Copy all answers to the provided answer sheet.
  3. Hand in answer sheet to teacher.  Keep question sheet with all your work on it!
  4. Twiddle thumbs for a few minutes waiting for everyone to finish.  Wish you could ask someone “what did you get for #5?”
  5. All papers are in.  Burst at the seams and ask “what’s the answer to 5!?”
  6. Participate in class or small-group discussion of questions and answers.  Compare your problem-solving approach to others’.  Figure out what you did right.  Figure out what you did wrong.  Make notes about how to do #5 differently, since now that you’ve found your misunderstandings or found new ways to tackle the question, you’re already planning to reassess next Wednesday.
  7. Put checkmarks on skill sheet.

I love this because it allows the students to go over the problems immediately after the test, during those 7 minutes of burning curiosity, yet still have their own test paper in front of them.  They remember what they did and why they did it (by tomorrow it’ll be gone into the ether of “oh, just a careless mistake” or “I understand it now”).  The downside is that they have to copy their answers from the question sheet to the answer sheet, which can take time.  I collect the answer sheets before the discussion/review, grade them on a complete/incomplete basis, and update my gradebook.

Because each person needs to know whether their answer meets the standard, they share.  This gets into a great discussion of the many possible right answers.  If I hand the tests back already graded, there’s no incentive to share.  Downside: you must risk speaking up and exposing a possibly flawed answer.  Upside: everyone else is doing it.  Sometimes the top students get things wrong, and take a good-natured drubbing, and it becomes more clear that smartness isn’t a magical quality that enables you to skip the “learning” phase of the learning.

Every once in a while, I collect the work sheets after we’re done reviewing.  It lets me see how they’re doing with grading their tests and writing feedback to themselves.  It also lets me have a look at the common misconceptions and confusions (although mostly I collect in-class work for that kind of intel).

Unexpected discovery: their negative self-talk shows up in their corrections.  I was blown away by the brutality of the things they were writing to themselves.  (“Stop being a moron!”  “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”).  Collecting the work sheets gives me a chance to write back to them, try to interrupt negative self-talk, and do some coaching about self-assessment.

When they request reassessments, the web form I use has a spot for “What have you learned about this skill that you didn’t know before.”  The answers there are almost as enlightening, and have evolved from “I learned that I am stupid” to “I learned that capacitors in parallel do not get added up if they have been converted to reactance.”  All of these things become the beginnings of conversations.


  1. I really like your process. Thank you for sharing. I’m just unclear about how you determine a score to record based only on their answer sheet?

      • Hi Kate, I have to assign a percentage grade. The skills are lumped into 6 units (8 or so skills per unit). A unit’s skills are tiered into “levels” up to 4. A student’s score for a particular unit is the highest level that they have completed (if they’ve finished all the level 2 skills and level 4 skills, they have a 2 — for now).

        This semester, the final semester grade will be an average of the unit scores. So far this looks like it will yield sensible grades. But the college’s policy states that a student must complete all “outcomes” of a course in order to receive credit, and my units stack up pretty closely against the course outline’s outcomes. Currently, it is technically possible to get 0 on a unit and still pass, so I may change the policy to say something like, if your lowest unit score is 2, your final grade is the average of unit scores or 59%, whichever is lower. Not sure about that yet — I’ll use the data from this semester to experiment. Hope that helps — more details on the “How I Grade” tab at the top of the page.

  2. This is an interesting approach, and I’m especially surprised to see that self talk appearing on the quiz corrections — while it made me laugh out loud (“Stop being a moron!”), it also helps me see that the students are perhaps recognizing where they’re making mistakes — and how to correct the same reasoning or approach errors the next time around.

    Great idea. As a former J-school teacher at the state university, I love it!


  3. Glad to see a post on this phenomenon! A lot of educators I know do some version of this, and unfortunately they get guff from people who think it’s ‘lazy’. But, as your post shows, there’s a lot to be said for having students recognize and correct their own mistakes. Congrats on being pressed!

  4. I love it! I’m happy to read that some teachers are getting more creative than my teachers were. Sounds like a useful exercise!

    Congrats on FP!

  5. As a former instructor at our state university, I think this is brilliant! Real teaching requires engaged students, and this sounds like a great way to accormplish that. I used service learning, but lots of things can work. I love this idea!

    Congrats on being freshly pressed. Hang on for the ride!

  6. I really like this process a lot – I will definitely file it away for when I have my own classroom. I definitely agree that there’s something to be said for doing something like this immediately after finishing the test.

    The negative self-talk though on their worksheets is also interesting – did you notice it with specific kids more than others? Like kids who do get high marks but put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed or is it the ones who already struggle a lot? Or was it a totally mixed bag.

  7. nice..i like it when teachers let you keep the ques sheet..so you can understand what and why you got something wrong…if you dont get to see this then the next time of round you will make the same mistake and won’t understand what you got wrong …again! great post..very help full..congrats on fp’ed!

  8. First, thank you for CARING! It’s wonderful to come across a teacher who ENJOYS his/her work enough to hone new skills, methods, and ideas.

    Secondly … keep us posted on the success of this method! Are the students eager to learn or just striving for the GRADE?

    Anyway … best of luck to you!

  9. Dear WordPress-iverse, thanks for the kind words. When I first saw all the comments, I wondered if I had wandered onto the wrong blog 🙂 (being Fresh-Pressed is odd/neat).

    @Miss Substitute Teacher: At the beginning of the semester, negative comments were sprinkled liberally on most papers. It’s as if students thought that’s what I expected: that they punish themselves for their mistakes. A definite time-saver for the evil teacher who’s too lazy to abuse the students themselves. *sigh* After a few weeks, they started to get the idea that I wanted them to use the information to improve their skills (see the tab “How I Grade” at the top of the page for more details). After that, the comments got much more constructive, except for a few very persistent students (with whom I work on this directly). It’s worth noting that I’m teaching what Americans would call vocational/technical school, so these aren’t teenagers in a “Race To Nowhere” type of pressure-cooker. They’re adults, some of them older than I am, and they have other kinds of pressures.

    @blogsenbybarb: Yes, this (and other changes I’ve made this semester) has made a huge difference in my students’ approach to learning. They are more aware of what they’re learning, why, and how to help themselves learn better. This is my third semester as a teacher, and first semester using a system sometimes called “skills-based grading” or “standards-based grading.” You can read more about my particular version of it, or there’s a great series of articles on Think Thank Thunk.

  10. As a (head) teacher I love learning new techniques and trying them for my students and teachers. We are about to start our new session and I am iplanning new methods. Your blog has given me more ideas. Great.

  11. This is a really good idea. I love how it makes learning more active rather than passive. Just giving a quiz can feel like punishment to a kid. But having them actively engaged in grading and learning from it is magic. Great job!

  12. This is a great way to give quizzes. The key here is students are engaged with their own learning and talk with each other.

    You are a great teacher. What grade do you teach?

    • Hi Jackson, I think you’ve summed up the important points exactly. Thanks for the kind words. I teach grade 14 🙂 (technical/vocational school)

  13. Great idea. As a student, quick feedback is normaly good. Who wants to wait untill the next class period or longer to find out the answer to #5? Better to get it settled while its still in your mind.

  14. Love the positive feedback that it provides, in a very efficient manner. Also love the opportunity it provides you to deflect the negative comments that they give to themselves.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  15. I did something similar to this once and I actually sort of liked it- but I think it was about a 50/50 split. Then again, most people aren’t going to enjoy quizzes in any way shape or form.

  16. This is so fascinating I can hardly stand it. I’m a writing instructor (fiction and essays, primarily) and I’ve had students assess their own writing for years. I’ve had some teachers look skeptically at this process, but the only way to teach them to become careful evaluators of their own writing is to have them actually evaluate their own writing.

    And I’ll tell you what, these kids are ruthless when you give them a chance. And they have wickedly high standards for themselves. And the more they buy into the notion that they get to DECIDE how much they excel, the more they excel. It’s a miracle, really.

    Great post!

    • Hi Kelly, I really appreciated your thoughtful note. I agree — nothing makes you an evaluator besides evaluating. Nothing makes you a problem-solver except problem-solving. Reading about evaluating or problem-solving only makes you better at reading about things.

      It seems bonkers to me that we teach people “about” things instead of teaching them the things. Students do have ridiculously high standards — sometimes punitively high! They need practise developing the right standards, too. Glad to hear of someone else who’s finding ways to do this.

      By the way, have you come across the work of Jo Boaler (education researcher at Stanford)? She writes mostly about math education but you might appreciate her thoughts about “Assessment For Learning” (I’m in the middle of reading What’s Math Got To Do With It which is where I saw the term). She argues that in addition to using assessment of learning, we also need assessment for learning. That assessing is inherently part of learning. I suspect that that’s true no matter what the skill.

      • Just added her to my library list. My kids are crazy math whizzes, and while I am not, their experience and frustration with how math is *taught* has introduced me to a whole other side of education. I can’t help them on their homework, but I have all sorts of opinions on what sorts of educational experiences tend to work well for my vigorous little thinkers.

        But in any case, getting kids to learn how to evaluate their own work, their own learning and their own process, I think, is the most important thing we can give them. They’re only in a classroom for a small portion of their lives, and yet their lives of learning persist, you know? We’re all learners. And the more we understand *how* we learn, the more we can quantify our own ignorance, and the more we can strategise to correct that ignorance.

      • @gasstationwithoutpumps: Interesting. I will definitely check it out. Important to note that the idea of “assessment for learning” has been put forward by Ken O’Connor, Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, Richard Stiggins, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, Thomas Guskey, Damian Cooper and Ronán Howe (according to a quick search of Wikipedia, anyway) so the validity of Boaler’s research may have little to do with it.

      • @GSWP: fair enough. Took a quick look at Milgram et al. and their methods appear convincing, but then so do hers. Constructivism in math is such a hot-button issue that I suspect both of overstating their case. Unlikely that I’ll time to do a close reading of both methodologies with the kind of attention it takes to evaluate their statistics, so I’d be interested in a balanced evaluation of both. Does such a thing exist? Would you be interested in posting about it?

  17. Obviously, the process is slightly different in America to Britain, but this idea is a big thing here. It’s officially called ‘Assessment for Learning’. Not only does it save us poor teachers a lot of time, as you’ve found out, the students learn lots more than just getting a mark back. Emma

    • Hi Emma, thanks for your thoughts. Funnily, while you were commenting, I was writing to another commenter about assessment for learning. Yes, it’s eminently sensible.

  18. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” LOL. So sweet, these kids, so tough on themselves. Ah well, I just called myself stupid in my last blog. I think it’s okay to be stupid. Sometimes even smart people are stupid.

  19. When I was a student teacher, I used that method all the time. The Australian curriculum, at least in VIC, uses assessment for learning and teaching as a necessary rubric and constructive reflection is part of the process.

  20. Sounds very familiar. We were doing this back in ’71 in my senior year of high school.
    Congrats on FP

  21. Great idea. I think it’s really important for kids to have ownership of their own learning. Just today I posted an article with links about kids who did extremely well writing their own curriculum. As we move forward to reform education I think we need to take into consideration how much students can offer in making their own educational experiences better.

    Congrats on FP!

  22. I largely teach writing, when I teach, at the college level. While there are worksheets on parts of language, “What is the Phoneme?”, etc, there are still essays to grade. It is easy to have composition students grade their worksheets; however, grading essays in another matter altogether. I haven’t yet found a method of transferring this level of problem solving to students because I have yet to find a method that allows students to grade their own essays.

    One thing I do, however, is assign students to read their essays aloud each week while their peers assess the essay. The student sharing their essay has to bring enough copies for each student in the class so that each student can see the written word as well as hear the essay read aloud (one common error in writing is that we often gloss over errors we’ve made in spelling or word usage because our brains know what it is we were supposed to say; peers having hard copies allows them to catch those mistakes when the author of the paper reads). After the reading, the student who has read remains silent while his/her peers critique his/her paper. Of course, I offer input & have the ultimate responsibility for grading, but this is the only way I have found for students to actually help each other learn the proper process for writing a college-level essay.

    We still assign letter grades, which I try to make entirely objective by basing the letter grade on a number system, taking the students’ semester total out of 100 (essentially expressing the final grade as a percentage & having each percentage corresponding to a specific letter grade as defined on the syllabus for the semester). I think this is the best way for other composition & writing teachers to help students learn for themselves. I’ve been entirely prescriptive in the past & found it’s not nearly as helpful in producing quality, thinking, conscientious writers as the peer-review process. After all, for those of us who end up in academia as a career (which I haven’t, thank goodness), we will be required to submit peer-reviewed research as a part of our job description. If we can survive the process, surely students can, and if we can learn from the process there is no reason to suspect that our students can’t learn from the same process.

    Thanks for taking on this issue, though. I agree with you that the learning process is so individual that we can’t expect one process to work for each student. At some point we have to stop proscribing the material and leave it to the students to discover their mistakes themselves, learning in the process how not to make those mistakes again. In that way, I think they reinforce those things we tell them through their own experiences. It’s more difficult for things that are closer to the arts, but it’s still possible if we just think outside the box.

  23. Mylene,

    I am interested in learning more about how you set this up. I am a student teacher about to teach high school math and this seems like a great and creative way to get students to start thinking critically instead of me getting up in front of the class telling them the answer is either right or wrong and so on. I am just wondering about the logistics because I am still learning how to structure things in the classroom.



  24. This is an amazing idea. I wish my professors would do something of this nature.

    Typically, the students must wait over the weekend of next class meeting to see their results. It is during the wait that a typical student has already moved on to the next chapter or topic.

  25. As a student, I support this message! Seriously, this is a great way of doing things. I’ve had a couple classes where this is employed and it’s way better for re-studying later for the test. I’ll own up to calling myself stupid on a quiz…it’s cathartic and depressing at the same time. But I don’t do it on quizzes that the teacher grades because I’m afraid they’ll mark off for it. Anyway, immediate correction is the way to go…I teach swim lessons and have the same philosophy there. Don’t let a student persist in a bad habit – try to build the best foundations first, and little technicalities will fall into place. Body position in the water lends itself to hand placement; in the same way, teaching me how to think about this stuff will let me think critically when I have to do research or some such, and not just memorize formulas.

  26. This does sound like a good idea. Most of my classes we just did the homework and reviewed it in class… We would also have in class discussions and review each question on a test/quiz during the next period. I find that students who want to know will go home after a test and find out what they have done wrong or did not remember. This process of reviewing directly after a test/quiz seems too much like in one ear out the other, no time for things to sink in. Inspiring none the less.

  27. Your quiz process sounds like a great idea! I was an English teacher for over 20 years and then moved into administration. If I were your dean, I would be thrilled! Interrupting students in the process of learning to help them see what they still need to master is a wonderful practice. I am surprised no one has mentioned Angelo & Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques for College Teachers (Josse Bass). Although an older tome, it is still in extensive use—and offers many activities to help assess if learning is really taking place. These activities have nothing to do with grades. While not mutually exclusive, grades do not automatically have a correlation with learning, mastery and application. Quick Example: Say you have just presented crucial information to the students. Do not give them a quiz, ask them instead to complete a one-minute paper. This is anonymous (give completion credit as they like to get points!) and not graded. The students state what they see as the top three concepts of the lesson—or whatever you suggest. If not being graded, the teacher can read through them quickly, often before the class is over. If the teacher thinks the top three concepts are A, B & C but the students all say only B & C, then A needs to be reintroduced. At times, the teacher thinks A, B & C but the students say X & Y. Better not move on until they get things cleared up! Many, many CATs are given in the book with adaptations for most disciplines from practicing teachers. Everyone’s comments about teaching makes me miss the classroom!

    • The great thing about this is that it doesn’t require interrupting the learing. What I’m doing is actually removing an interruption. After all, what do students do as soon as they leave a quiz? They have a heated discussion in the hall about “what did you get?” This conversation doesn’t have to be surreptitious. By inviting the conversation to happen in class, I can be a part of it if that’s helpful, or I can organize the students into groups and get out of the way. As well, by allowing the students to keep their test papers, they can have that conversation with the actual answers in their hands. Too often, what they wrote and what they thought they wrote are very different. It’s not until their thoughts and their actions are suddenly brought into focus at the same time that they realize there is a contradiction.

    • So true that often when I am explaining A, B, and C, the students are hearing X & Y. I think they understand, they think they understand, then tomorrow I have to re-explain the whole thing. Some education bloggers have begun calling this “pseudoteaching”, and there’s a great collection of posts about it.

  28. My university is doing this right now for our business classes. It’s much better than the traditional form of testing and I agree with you, the students get more from it than it it were just marked and handed back.

  29. Nice! As a student, I like the idea and appreciate the process. It sounds like a great learning opportunity! Not all teachers know what they’re doing… in fact, here, most of the teachers give notes, homework and nothing else. I tip my hat to you (not that I’m wearing one)! 🙂

  30. I really like this idea. I’m totally going to steal it from you and try it with my pre-calc class this week.
    Thanks for the idea!!

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