Learning Math the Hard Way: One Retake at a Time

Jenny Zhang, Staff Writer

An old American maxim states, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This is good advice for activities ranging from music to athletics, but in school, re-taking tests, especially math tests, is more complicated. Though there are benefits to re-taking tests, there is a growing concern as to how many retakes are sufficient, or productive, or fair to others. This is not an easy issue to resolve, and further empirical study by the educational community is needed.

One benefit for retesting in math is to help students’ understand the subject more thoroughly. Math is difficult for many students, and retesting gives them a better chance to study and learn the material, which is really what school is all about: learning the curriculum. Penn State professor of statistics, Herbert Friedman argues that many curricula are built on “previously covered content,” so mastering the materials before moving to the next assignment is vital.

Reasons behind the necessity for re-testing should also be considered. There are arguably several explanations for students underperforming on the original tests such as illnesses, studying for other classes, test anxieties or problems at home. These all make sense, so on the surface, it seems logical that students be given another chance to bring their grades up to match their potential rather than to face a lower GPA.

Dr. Friedman believes that retesting alleviates test anxiety and helps teachers in “guiding students to review the material.” Furthermore, it prevents students from falling behind as new materials are presented.

While many educators might agree that one retest is acceptable, most will argue that in an increasingly competitive academic environment, re-testing more than once is unfair to the “A” students who hand in their homework on time and receive “A’s” the very first time. One solution to this concern might be to restrict grades to a “B” or less if more than one retest is required.

The issue of retaking math tests is not one that is discussed much in class, but it is only fair that specific ground rules are established for the number of retests and the corresponding letter grades that students can earn. In a perfect world, learning the material is all that would matter, and how this is achieved would be irrelevant. Until then, students will be asking to retake their math tests, and teachers will have to decide how many times is too many.