Why did they fail?

Not every student prepares his exam so seriously.

The bad marks of the students may be or may not be the consequence of a bad teaching.  The students may be lazy or have a poor intellectual background. Perhaps they had bad teachers during the previous years, or perhaps their families are in disarray. There’s is no point in taking their failure too personally. This article isn’t meant to shame anyone. I don’t care who is responsible: the current teacher, the previous teachers, the school organization, the bad textbooks, the students themselves or whatever. Maybe no one is guilty. Problems happen. Period. What matters is to identify those problems in order to address them.  Here are a few questions that may help you find solutions.

Commitment and work

  • Are the poor marks a consequence of a lack of work from the students ?
  • If so, why didn’t they review the lesson properly ?
  • Is it a lack of time to work at home ?
  • Were they properly informed of your expectations ?
  • Did they have all the necessary material to learn, i.e. written lessons, textbooks and so on ? Checking the notebooks is sometimes a very simple and effective way to improve the memorization! Even in upper high school, you cannot imagine how much of a mess certain notebooks are…


  • Are the poor marks a consequence of misunderstanding ?

It would be good to figure out the most common mistakes made by the students. When you correct their work, you should register the mistakes and classify them, in order to prioritize your explanations. Usually, only a few number of mistakes explain the majority of the problems. Sometimes, only 4 rules make up to 75% of the mistakes ! So, you only need to explain those 4 rules and make a short checklist to help the students review their own work.


  • How many times have the students been able to train on exercises similar to those in the test ?
    4 or 5 trainings may be necessary to fully understand the expectations of the teacher. If you write your first critical essay the day of the exam, you’ll likely fail.
  • How did you correct those trainings ?
  • Were the students able to understand their mistakes ?
  • Did they pay enough attention to your comments ? It’s very good to create incentives, in order to make them read your comments thoroughly.  For instance, when I give their stories back, I promise them 4 bonus points (over 20), if they can make a second draft. For a less complex exercise, such as grammar, I only give 2 points. I don’t consider the final quality, but only the improvements between the two versions of the story. Of course,  I write a lot of advices on the first sheet. Usually we explain the mistakes at school, but they finish the second draft at home. This method requires a lot of time because you have to correct the exercises twice. But the second time is faster. You don’t make as many comments, and you just check the improvements. And, above all, it’s very, very, effective.

Test design

  • Did the students have enough time to do all the exercises ?
  • Did you estimate the required time by doing the exercises yourself ? A good teacher should be able to do them twice as fast as the students.
  • Have you tried to analyze the distribution of the marks in the class ?
    You will probably get a bell curve. If it’s not the case, it may indicate a problem with the instructions. If a large part of the students had a perfect answer and a large part had everything wrong, maybe the exercise was easy but some students didn’t understand the question itself.

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