People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.

F. Matthias Alexander

Do your students see mistakes as a sign of weakness, or an opportunity to learn and grow?  Do they suffer from test anxiety, or have they just never really learned how to learn?  Do your students know that the best learning strategy is to actually have a strategy?

The answer to these questions may decide their fate as an online student.  Thankfully, we can step in and help them learn from their mistakes.  We can also help them to believe in themselves as a learner and trust us as their guide.

Before we dive in, watch this 12-second clip of my son Oliver if you want to see the value that I place on having a growth mindset:

God, I love that kid so much…

I have developed a series of tools that I created for my students to make them more confident, capable, and resilient learners.  I will share each of them here on the blog, but I want to start with the “Test Analysis and Correction Worksheet” because it has taught my students to view their exams as a part of the learning journey rather than the ultimate destination.

The Test Analysis and Correction Worksheet:

Feel free to use my worksheet as a template to create your own.  You can also reach out to me using the contact form at the bottom of my Keynotes and Workshops page if you want me to send you a copy.  It is always my pleasure to help.

This may seem like a simple form (with a very boring name), but it has yielded profound results:

  • Students that use the worksheet report a 31% decrease in test anxiety over the course of a semester
  • Average cumulative final exam scores have gone up by 6%
  • There has been a noticeable decrease in students dropping my online courses after the first or second exam

And these are just the areas that can be easily measured.  I can’t quantify the value of gaining a students trust by showing them that I care about their success, but I see its impact every single day.

How could something this ordinary yield such extraordinary results?

7 Reasons to Have Your Online Students Fix Their Mistakes:

Teaching my students how to think about their mistakes has had a powerful impact on my online courses.  I have my students think about thinking and learn about learning before I ever try to teach them Anatomy or Microbiology.  These are the seven key benefits that I have seen from this approach:

1.  It reframes exams as learning experiences:

Recovering from your mistakes is the key to learning.  I teach my students that the only real mistake is one that they don’t learn from.

I have found that low-stakes practice quizzes are the best way to change how students see their actual exams.  Students love them because they can evaluate their progress and see where they are struggling without watching their grade take a hit.  I love them because my students are one step closer to viewing their exams as an opportunity to learn instead of a punishment.

Bonus Tip:  The “Test Analysis and Correction Worksheet” works for other assignment types too.  I have students use this form to review case studies, lab reports, and lab simulation responses as well.

2.  It helps your students develop a growth mindset:

Carol Dweck’s work on the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset has changed how I view my struggling students.  They aren’t someone that doesn’t get it.  They are someone that doesn’t get it YET.  What a powerful idea!

I can’t force my students to have a growth mindset, but I can point them in the right direction.  The “Test Analysis and Correction Worksheet” helps my students learn from their mistakes so they can fail fast and fail forward.  It also shows them that I am as interested in their future success as I am their test scores.

Watch this video to see how I teach students about failure, developing a growth mindset, and never giving up:

3.  It teaches your students how to be better test-takers:

Get your students to look for what their mistakes have in common.  Have them focus on the usual suspects:

  • Reading questions too quickly
  • Changing their answers
  • Poor time management during their exams

If students notice that they miss questions over and over for the same reason, then they can see significant improvements in their test scores with relatively minor fixes.

One student immediately comes to mind.  Using this worksheet helped her to see that she was talking herself out of 4-8 correct answer per test.  Once she saw this, and I told her to ditch the eraser, her average test score improved by 12%.

Helping your students fix these types of issues will help them to feel in control.  This is especially powerful for students that struggle with test anxiety.


4.  It levels the playing field for your students:

Helping students learn from their mistakes allows every student to reap the same amount of reward from their exams and assignments.  Students that crush it on the first try get to move on to the next task.  Students that struggle will now have the opportunity to let it seep in.  Hopefully, both students will end up mastering the material.  They will just take different paths to get there.

5.  It builds the latest in neuroscience research into your course:

Your students can reap the reward of decades of neuroscience research, whether they know it or not.  Something as simple as analyzing missed test questions incorporates spaced repetition and retrieval practice in a powerful way.

I plan on covering this fascinating topic in great detail in the future.  For now, watch this video to see how I teach students about the benefits of Spaced Repetition:

6.  It can give you valuable feedback about your assignments and exams:

If 75% of your students miss a test question, is it really their fault?  Maybe, but maybe not.

Get into the habit of asking your students to share what they are learning through this process.  It will help you to see where your students are struggling by making their thought process visible.  This type of feedback is priceless.  It is the first place I go when I update exams, decide what new content to create, or revise my assignments.

7.  Students will actually read your feedback:

I will do whatever I can to help a student succeed, but the last thing I want to do is waste my time.  I spend several hours every week grading work and providing valuable feedback to my students.  I shudder to think about how much of that feedback goes unnoticed.  I guess this explains why so many of my teaching friends like to drink.

Once you get your students into the habit of learning from their mistakes, they will be much more likely to read (and use) your feedback.  You can put down the margarita and pick up your favorite grading pen once again.

Getting Buy-in From Your Students:

Here is how I introduce this worksheet to my students:

Hi all,

I wanted to share a worksheet that I created to help you learn from the questions you miss on the exams (and assignments) in this class.  This is not required, but I think that it can definitely help you to get more out of this course.  Here is how I recommend you use it:

  1. Wait at least 5-7 days after an exam to complete this worksheet. It is important to give it some time and then go back and look at your material.  Waiting will provide you with another opportunity to practice pulling the correct answers out of your mind, which is what real learning is all about.
  2. Feel free to do this for any other types of assignment as well (practice quizzes, lab simulations, case studies, etc.).
  3. Use this in your other courses as well. If you make a habit of this, it can help you to see testing as part of the learning process rather than as a punishment.

Be blessed,

Dr. O

I have played with the idea of requiring this as an assignment or making it worth extra credit.  I would love to hear your thoughts about how you use this tool in your online courses.

Final Thoughts:

Showing your online students that you believe in them, and getting them to believe in themselves, is the best way to get your students from here:

To here:

The “Test Analysis and Correction worksheet” is powerful on its own, but I have found that it works even better when I combine it with my test prep checklist.  I will write a post about that checklist soon.  Stay tuned!

I want to hear from you.  Feel free to:

  • Leave a comment below.  I will personally reply to each one
  • Tag me @GrowGrayMatter on Twitter or LinkedIn to move the discussion to my favorite social media channels
  • Send me a message through the contact form on the bottom of the About page

Crush it!

Dr. O


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