How to Use the Answer Key to Its Full Potential

how to use the answer key to its full potentialIf you’re thinking,“I already know how to use the answer key,” you may be right – toa point. But did you know that answer keys can help with more than checking whether an answer is right or wrong? No? Then, this article is for you. At least, it’s for you if you want your students to get the most out of their curriculum – whether from A Grade Ahead or their schools.

Using an Answer Key to Its Full Potential

I’m not going to tell you that the answer key is the best part of the book; however, it does have value beyond scoring homework. In fact, if you want your child to have the best learning experience possible, then, you need to use the answer key to its full potential. And that applies to school materials as well as supplemental materials – wherever the answer key has explanations.

How to Use the Answer Key

Don’t worry. Using the answer key better is not very difficult, and in fact, your student will be doing most of the work. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Have the student do the homework assignment at his or her regular pace. This can be a full week of work or a single day’s assignment. Students can use the examples to help clear up any questions.

    *Pro Tip: If you really want to go all out, have the student do only 1 day of work before grading. Then, the grading process (below) will help the student learn before completing the rest of the work – that keeps students from making the same mistake(s) all week!
  2. Grade the student’s homework. Marking which ones are incorrect is more important than the overall score (for this purpose).
  3. Have the student try those problems again. Students can use the examples to try to figure it out on their own. Sometimes, students will understand what they did wrong from looking at the problems alone, and sometimes, they won’t. That’s fine. The process of trying strengthens problem-solving skills. If a student is completely lost, skip to step 5.
  4. Re-grade those problems.
  5. Have the student read the answers for any problems he or she still missed. For the most part, the answer keys have in-depth explanations that show the most important steps for completing the problem. Reading the answer key can be an excellent learning experience for students!

I would guess that most of the time, this process stops at step 2. Occasionally step 3 for very dedicated students. And those students are still benefiting from doing the homework. They’re just not using the answer key to its full potential.

What Are the Benefits of Using the Answer Key?

There are 3 main benefits from following this process for completing and reviewing homework.

Enhanced Understanding of the Concepts Covered

Students are more likely to understand all the concepts covered. And it makes sense! Any student who takes the time to figure out why he or she missed a question will understand better than a student who doesn’t review missed problems.

Improved Self-teaching Skills

Self-teaching skills rely heavily not only on reading comprehension but also what type of learner the student is. Some children are naturally better at teaching themselves by reading. Personally, I was not one of them even though I was an advanced reader. Today, I am exponentially better than I used to be because I practiced the process. And it is something most students will have to do in college (especially grad school). The sooner they start, the better they’ll be by the time it’s required.

Advanced Progress Tracking

Not all students have a good understanding of what they don’t understand – they don’t know what they don’t know.

As confusing as that sounds, it’s true. In fact, students often think they understand a topic when really they have it totally backwards. But asking teachers about every single topic covered doesn’t work: it’s too time-consuming, and it doesn’t help students as much as focusing on the one or two topics they don’t understand.

By following these steps, students and parents can narrow down questions for teachers. If there is something that a student cannot figure out using this method, then you know exactly what to ask the teacher in class. If the student cannot find his or her error for any problems using this method, then that may be a sign of a bigger problem.

Won’t That Process Take Too Long?

Like most subjective questions, the answer is, “It depends.”

How Well Does the Student Understand?

If you look back at the steps, you’ll notice that the odd numbered steps all take longer because trying to understand a problem generally takes longer than grading it. So how long the entire process takes relies mainly on how well the student already understands the material and whether the student is good at problem-solving to find errors.

How Many Missed Questions Cover the Same Idea?

It’s also important to realize that the same ideas are repeated in different questions. So if a student doesn’t understand meter for English or negative exponents for math, that student is likely to miss multiple problems about that subject. That also means that once the student begins to understand the concept, that understanding will apply to all of those problems.

Long story short, the student may only have to look at the answer key for one or two problems and then be able to fix the other ones that he or she missed.  It’s kind of a domino effect.

Do You Always Have to Follow These Steps?

Nope. Most students don’t, so obviously you can stop at step 2 or 3 and still benefit greatly from the material. So if you don’t have time to do all of these steps every week, save them for when your student really needs them.

I would definitely recommend following these steps for any topics that your student is struggling with. Beyond the extra practice, seriously analyzing the difference between the student’s work and the answer key can be very valuable.

It’s a bit like private tutoring – it’s important to make use of it when a student is struggling, but you don’t necessarily need it when a student is doing exceptionally well.

What do you think? Did you already know how to use the answer key to its full potential?

Author: Elizabeth F., Writer and Teacher at A Grade Ahead

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