Student Self-Assessment

Intentionally involving your students in the assessment process helps students to become lifelong learners.  Peter Senge (2000) says, “A cornerstone of lifelong learning is the capacity for objective self-assessment – the ability to judge for yourself how well you are doing.”  Similarly, William McKeachie (2011) relates the importance of helping students become lifelong learners to faculty members who intentionally involve students in self-assessment:

“After the course is over, students will not be able to depend on you to assess the quality of their learning.  If one of your goals is the development of lifelong learning skills, students need practice in self-assessment.”

What are some ways to involve students in self-assessment?

I. Have students evaluate their performance on an exam using an exam wrapper.

To encourage students to learn from past tests, faculty can assign a worksheet that asks students to look at more than the grade on the returned exam.  “Exam wrappers direct students to review and analyze their performance (and the instructor’s feedback) with an eye toward adapting their future learning” (Ambrose, et al, 2010).

Questions on an exam wrapper for a physics course might include the following:

1.   Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for this exam? ______

2  . What percentage of your test-preparation was spent in each of these activities?

     a.  Reading textbook section(s) for the first time ______

     b.  Rereading textbook section(s) ______

     c.  Reviewing homework ______

     d.  Solving problems for practice ______

     e.  Reviewing your own notes ______

     f.  Reviewing materials from course website ______

     g.  Other  _______

        (Please specify) _______________________________

3.   Now that you have looked over your graded exam, estimate the percentage of points you lost due to each of the following.

     a.  Trouble with vectors and vector notation ___________

     b.  Algebra or arithmetic errors __________

     c.  Lack of understanding of the concept __________

     d.  Not knowing how to approach the problem ________

     e.  Careless mistakes _______

     f.  Other ________

       (Please specify) ___________

4.   Based on your responses to the questions above, name at least three things you plan to do differently in preparing for the next exam.  For instance, will you spend more time studying, change a specific study habit or try a new one (if so, name it), make math more automatic so it does not get in the way of physics, try to sharpen some other skill (if so, name it), solve more practice problems, or something else?


5.   What can we do to help support your learning and your preparation for the next exam?

(From Ambrose, et al, 2010)

II. Have students submit a self-evaluation of an assignment.

Walvoord and Anderson (2010) encourage faculty to save time grading by finding out what the student already knows. “Why spend time writing comments about a students paper’s focus when the student, if asked would respond, ‘Oh, I knew the paper wasn’t well focused’? How can you tap this student information? One strategy is to ask them to submit a half-page evaluation of their work” (Walvoord and Anderson, 2010).

Student Check Sheet for Literary Critical Essay

_____ I read the short story at least twice.

_____ I revised this essay at least once.

_____ I spent at least five hours on this essay.

_____ I started work on this essay at least three days ago.

_____ I have tried to do my best work on this essay.

_____ I have used the grading criteria in the assignment sheet to check and revise my work.

_____ I proofread the essay at least twice for grammar and punctuation.

_____ I asked at least one other person to proofread the essay.

_____ I ran the essay through a spelling check.

_____ If I were to revise this paper again, I would . . .

(From Walvoord and Anderson, 2010)

III. Have students correct their own homework using an instructor created key.

If your class has daily homework, spending time making a key for students can be more time efficient than grading the homework.  Students also like grading their work because they get immediate insight into their errors without having to wait a week to get the graded homework returned.  Nelta Edwards (2007) uses self-grading in a social statistics course:

“At the start of each class for which homework is due, I hand out a key for the assigned problems. I print each key on different colored paper, as far as paper choices permit. I walk the class through each homework problem as students compare their own work with the key. I ask them to correct mistakes on their work with different colored writing utensils. Students score each problem on scale from 0 to 4 (0 for no attempt; 1, 2, and 3 for an answer in between; and 4 for perfect). For each problem with a score of less than 4, I ask students to write a note about what they missed, such as “math error” or “wrong test statistic.” Students write their scores next to each problem and the score for the whole assignment at the top of the front page. Self-grading the homework usually takes between ten and twenty minutes, depending on the number of questions students ask during the process and the number of problems assigned. I collect the student-graded work and spend the rest of the class period on the next topic.” (Edwards, 2007)


  • Ambrose, S A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C. & Noman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Edwards, N. M. (2007). Student self-grading in social statistics. College Teaching, 55(2), 72-76.
  • McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. D. (2005). McKeachie's teaching tips:  strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Senge, P. (2000). Schools that learn: a fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents, and everyone who cares about education.  New York: Doubleday.
  • Walvoord, B.E. & Anderson, J. A. (2010). Effective grading: a tool for Learning and assessment in college. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.