Retakes Promote Mastery

Chad OstrowskiBlog, Differentiate Better, Grade Better, Innovate Better, Mastery Learning Better


  • Debunking a common argument against retaking assessments.
  • Reasons why retakes promote mastery of content.

Seriously, You should Allow Retakes.

I know as you read this title you may have rolled your eyes a bit. Maybe you had some thought of “In the real world they don’t allow retakes…“.

I’d love to take that thought to it’s natural conclusion actually. I would argue that some of the most important assessments we take actually do allow retakes. The SAT, ACT, MCAT, LSAT, Driver’s Test, Licensure Exams, and Teacher Licensure Exams all allow them!

This argument is not just weak. It’s absolutely wrong.

Even in the workplace, retakes are done constantly. If you turn in a project, it may need revision. If you present work to a client, they may have changes. Not everything is expected to be absolutely perfect because an arbitrary due date was placed on it.

The reason these things allow revision, retakes, or re-working is because the goal is not the completion of the task, but mastery. Completion to the set standard that has been provided.

A few extra days, or additional time to make something “right” or to achieve mastery is the importance of each of these things. NOT that “they got done”.

My question is: Why isn’t the same philosophy used in the classroom? Isn’t it the mastery of the content that’s important?

Here are a few reasons retakes can improve mastery in your classroom.

Retakes Increase the Value of Learning Opportunities Provided.

Think about this scenario.

A student fails an assignment and you give them their grade of an “F” or low value. This indicates that the student did not understand the content covered.

When you give the student the next assignment anyway, you are saying, “Learning the previous content was not important enough to be required to do the current assignment.

This devalues the previous assignment. Makes it meaningless. If the assignment was purposefully chosen to articulate mastery of a specific learning target, then having the student retake that assignment until mastery is shown values the task more than simply moving on.

Retakes can Foster Productive Struggle.

Productive struggle has shown to be a powerful tool in education.

Retakes can be a way to foster productive struggle. They help identify weaknesses and close gaps.

Failure can actually be a powerful tool to learning. FAIL in many of my own trainings is defined as the FIRST, ATTEMPT, IN, LEARNING.

Letting a student simply not understand something and trying to move on anyway is counterproductive to mastery.

Instead, stop. Provide context, additional support, and instruction. Allow them to correct or re-do their work. It can be a powerful learning experience.

When students identify their weaknesses head on, they can master material much sooner than if it is glazed over and coverage of material simply rolls on.

It’s THAT Students Master Material NOT WHEN.

Our job as teachers is a not easy, but our goal is simple.

Students should master content before they leave our classrooms. I absolutely realize there are some other areas and a ton of other hats that we wear in teaching, but at it’s core this is true.

Whether a student masters a concept right when it’s covered or they have to struggle a bit to understand it, as long as they eventually master it, the goal has been met. This is a foundational component of all mastery learning.

Allow students the opportunity retake an assessment, redo an assignment, or correct a mistake. This isn’t just because. It is foundational to the process of learning. It can improve motivation and remove the fear of failure. Then, they try harder and are more willing to try at all!

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If you haven’t considered allowing retakes in your classroom you may want to do so. Especially if you want to focus on promoting mastery for your students. Empowering them with a focus on learning over completion of tasks.

About Chad Ostrowski

Chad Ostrowski is the co-founder of the Teach Better Team, and creator of The Grid Method. He is also a co-author of the Teach Better book. But Chad is a middle school science teacher at heart. He now travels the country sharing his story, working with teachers, schools, and districts to help them to reach more students. Chad is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.