Taking On Tests

I’ve been on an education kick lately since it’s back to school time. I often comment that I believe tests are overused as an evaluation tool. I think they have a time and place, but programs like No Child Left Behind are making the test the apex of the curriculum.

I often argue that most tests are designed to assess memorization and not problem solving. I’d like to see students create something. That is how the world improves, through the value of creation. This effort requires the student to apply the learned material plus it reinforces real world skills like managing time and resources.

Tests have positives though. They are efficient in their use of time and measurement. And as I learned from Benedict Carey’s article Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits tests act as another associative method for learning. Over the last few years I’ve read books like Geoff Colvin ‘s Talent is Overrated and Drive by Dan Pink which have hammered the point that if you are motivated to practice and to practice novel approaches with immediate feedback you will succeed.

The article also talks about the use of association. In other posts , like Using Fables , I talk about the use of stories as a learning tool. Stories provide a narrative for later recall of the material. If you are studying mental fortitude and strength while routinely looking out the window at some oak trees you are going to subconsciously relate the two. During the test, I suggest you gaze out the window, it might trigger the association.

The use of tests are themselves both a narrative and a practice method. They require the test taker to consider the topic in an abstract sense and with different combination of scenarios. They also provide immediate feedback. In this way, tests are great.

If I were a teacher I’d start teaching the material with a story. I’d then require the students to create something related to it. I’d finish the lesson with a series of small tests. Why a series of small tests? I’d make it like a golf handicap – the top 10 of 20 are the ones that count. The others just create the pool of eligible scores. I feel this is most optimal because it allows for each test to be a teaching aid while  reducing the all or nothing effect.

Now, if I can only remember where I put my keys.


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