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The Deficiencies of Test-Taking

Kerri Sands, Contributing Writer

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From the MCAS to the SAT, students grow up with the notion that test-taking abilities define our intelligence. We are taught that if we don’t get an 80% or above on the tests we take, we are failing. Rather than testing intelligence, tests evaluate obedience—whether or not students have the ability to memorize and follow every step that is taught in class. Although tests are important in order to assess one’s mastery of a subject, it’s time that we recognize the fact that numbers don’t define who we are and what we know.

Tests are not the most efficient way to evaluate one’s knowledge of a subject, but they are still important in order to evaluate students on a national scale for college applications (i.e. the SAT and ACT). Tests may also track a student’s progress within the class. If a student starts a class with low test grades, but they increase their test grades as the course progresses, this may show growth in the student’s understanding of the subject.

Despite the few pros of test-taking, there are many cons that come along with it. First and foremost, not all students have grown up taking tests regularly in school. If a student attended an alternative school, or had other educational arrangements besides mainstream American schooling, they may have not been taught the proper test-taking skills. In this case, students might not have had the opportunity to learn test-taking strategies such as time management during tests, or ways to eliminate options during multiple-choice questions. Because these test-taking skills are not taught universally, some individuals will have a better understanding of how to take tests than others.

Most of the time—especially for students that are not strong test-takers—there are rarely other options. Advocates for test-taking may argue that if a student isn’t a strong test-taker, they can bring up their grade by consistently completing classwork and homework. However, if students have weak test-taking skills, there isn’t much opportunity to make up for it in other areas. Normally, at the high school level, tests account for a large portion of the grade—so, even if  students excel in other areas (participation, classwork, homework, etc.), their grades drop significantly with poor test performance

Having an education system built around testing also reinforces the idea that students should care more about the grade rather than enjoying and embracing their learning experiences. Humans are born naturally curious and with a love for learning. However, tests impose the idea that learning should just be about receiving good grades, rather than enjoying the information we absorb.

Having an education system built around testing also reinforces the idea that students should care more about the grade rather than enjoying and embracing their learning experiences.”

The American Federation of Teachers published a report in 2013 stating that high school students may spend over 110 hours per year doing test prep and spend about 50 hours taking the actual tests. This is time that could have been spent learning more material rather than just reviewing. Another study by the Northwest Evaluation Association shows that 70% of teachers feel that focusing on testing takes away from learning. If the teachers distributing the tests believe that taking so many tests wastes time, shouldn’t the system be listening?

Though test-taking does not define a student’s intelligence, I don’t believe it should be abolished. However, I believe that alternatives should be considered. First, the education system could implement a more project-based curriculum—rather than having frequent tests after every unit, teachers could alternate between having tests and projects after units. This gives students the opportunity to create projects that show off what they have learned while encouraging creativity. The education system could also consider portfolio-based assessments, so students can show off what they’ve learned by showcasing their best works.

Because every individual’s mind works in a unique manner, test-taking does not effectively showcase what one has learned throughout their school experiences. The education system has created a more “uniform” way of assessing students, which is an unrealistic expectation, since students learn at different paces and through different learning tactics. This adverse system of test-taking downgrades the importance of creativity and fun in learning, and pressures students to solely learn for the test grade. As students, it’s essential that we continue to learn for the love of learning—not just for the sake of getting an A.

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The Deficiencies of Test-Taking