We all want what’s best for our students—that’s why we became educators in the first place. But when it comes to assessing their knowledge, should we allow test retakes, or not? To be more direct, is it best to allow them multiple chances, or is it better to prepare them by fostering a sense of perseverance and motivation?
Testing and Retakes, Retakes and Testing
Every school has a different policy on whether they allow test retakes . With this in mind, I am simply sharing my perspective on the retake philosophy. Having taught at a school that did not offer retakes and a school that does, I waiver between what I think is best. Come with me on an anecdotal journey through my wavering thoughts on if allowing students to retake tests is beneficial or problematic for them in the long run.
I wasn’t offered the opportunity to retake tests when I was in K-12, college, or graduate school. I studied hard and gave every test my best effort knowing that was the only opportunity I had. High-stakes tests are stressful and can do a number on mental health, not to mention the lack of sleep. Consequently, do I wish I had the guarantee of a retake if I wasn’t satisfied with my score? Sure. Am I happy that I spent the time and effort preparing myself as best I could in the time allotted? Definitely. In order to do well in college—I thought—I needed to give it my all with the knowledge that if I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped that it was my own fault. However, just because this is how it used to be doesn’t mean that’s how it still should be.
The Case for Allowing Retakes …
- Do we defer to the growth mindset principles, which hold that students may not show mastery in a concept … yet? If so, a retake policy allows them to show their skills when they acquire them, not necessarily when they are being tested.
- Students innately want to do the best they can the first time around because who wants to spend time retaking a test anyway?
- Equally (more?) important to academic performance is students’ emotional well-being. For example, what if they didn’t sleep well the night before? Or perhaps they have friendship drama that upset them and they didn’t have the capacity to give the test their full attention. In that instance, a retake would be fair and empathetic.
- Lastly, should we let kids be kids and not compare the work they are doing in middle school to the work that they might someday perform in the higher education and/or working world?
On the Other Hand, Maybe Retakes Aren’t the Way to Go …
- When preparing students for tests, teachers go through the necessary and agreed-upon process of utilizing study guides, performing practice problems, and answering any questions about the content before the test begins. Shouldn’t those efforts be enough? More importantly, aren’t we preparing them for “real world” demands?
- Some students now ask before taking a test for the first time, “there’s going to be a retake for this, right?” I don’t want them to have that attitude going in. I want them to do their absolute best the first time around, and not rely on the fact that they can do it once more (and, as it turns out, as many times as they desire).
- Further, what if a month has gone by and the class has moved from adding linear expressions to cross-sections of 3D figures? Is it really realistic for the student and teacher to have to reverse back in time to reteach, review, and reassess material that existed in a different domain?
- Moreover, do we adults get a second chance at an important work presentation because we are going through emotional drama? Can we ask our boss for a redo because we just didn’t take the time to prepare well enough beforehand?
The Jury’s Still Out
To be sure, I’ve held many retake and review sessions after benchmark tests. I can honestly and confidently say that I see how retakes are beneficial. Conversely, I can also see how they might not be the best strategy in terms of fostering skills like perseverance and grit. Idealistically, I hope my students want to do well on tests for the sake of conceptual knowledge acquisition. Realistically, I wonder if they are now more concerned with the score than the satisfaction that they tried their best. Either way, retaking tests is a policy that seems to be here to stay.