Teach Students How to Check Their Work

A student walks up with with his math test and turn it in to you. You glance at the clock. You think, Hmm, 10 minutes ago I gave you this test.

You say, "Did you check your work?"

"Whoops," the student says and takes back the test. He remains standing in front of you and gives each page a quick glance, nodding.

10 seconds later, "Okay, I checked it. Here you go."

Does this routine sound familiar? 

 With our tests, we want to assess what students really know and are able to do. So when an answer is left blank, or we find a minor calculation error that throws off the entire answer, or only one part of the two-part question was completed, it makes it harder to know what the student really knows. "Silly" types of mistakes obviously hurt the student, but it also hurts us!

I had many of these interactions with students, and I found that simply reminding students to check their work was rarely helpful. Did students really know what I meant? Did I really know what I meant?

After some reflection, I broke the concept of "checking your work" into three levels. I modeled how to do each level, and then I taught students when each "level of checking" was best to use. This idea has worked well in math especially, but can be applied to other subjects too.

Let's look closer at each level:

Level One Checking

I consider a "level one check" to be the lowest level of checking your work (but better than nothing). After completing your test or assignment, you return to the beginning and check to be sure that you have answered every question. Basically, you are checking to see if you skipped anything. It is quick and takes little thought, but might be the right choice in certain situations, like if you are running out of time.

Level Two Checking

When you check your work at level two, you return to the beginning of your test or assignment and you reread the first question. You then look at your answer and see if it makes sense. If it does, you move on and do the same for the rest of the questions. If it doesn't, you work the problem again to try to find your error. With level two, you really keep your brain turned on. It helps eliminate those "silly" mistakes.

Level Three Checking

Checking your work at level three is like a full court press. This is when you read each question again and rework the problem. You then compare your answer to your first attempt to see if you got the same thing. This takes a lot of time and mental stamina, but might be appropriate for certain sections, like a problem with multi-digit addition or subtraction.

After teaching students the three levels of checking, we put a reminder poster on the board. I made three versions of the poster: the two you see in the here in the post, as well as a plain blackline version. You can have the whole file by signing up below!

Getting students to care about checking their work isn't easy. It takes a change of mindset that completing the last question is not "the end." It also takes the realization that we all are capable of making absent-minded mistakes. 
I've found that teaching students how to use these different levels of checking has helped give students more ownership and the ability to make wiser choices when it comes to checking their work. I hope the idea can help your students too!