This is a test … if this were the real thing, you would be on your own, with no test to help you…

Testing has a bad name among some progressive educators, and although I may be mixing apples and oranges here, I just read an article that claims researchers came up with study results that showed college students learned better through testing than traditional study.

(see link at end of blog)

Of course I think the tests that get criticized are the standardized ones that are used to measure and in compare educational achievement both within schools and between schools and in figuring out whether teachers and staffs should be fired (as in Obama‘s education policy).

But anyway, this article was talking about a study in which students read short passages on subjects such as math and science and then were immediately tested. A week later they demonstrated they had learned more than other students who used time-honored traditional methods, otherwise known as studying.‘

Gee, maybe if this really works we could cut out a lot of the homework and replace it with short quizzes at the end of the chapter or the page (most books have them, or at least they used to when I was in school — many teachers did not make use of them, many did).

Then there is the criticism of “teaching to the test”. The idea is that if students are simply just supposed to learn everything by rote memory or just supposed to spit back answers they might not really even understand, they have learned little to nothing. I think that might depend upon the structure of the test. I mean if you can pass a test and not really know what you are doing, then something is wrong with the test.

Multiple choice is probably the most bogus form of testing there is. I think there is probably some statistical advantage for the test taker if he or she can start out right. Depending upon what the subject matter is, you might be able to follow a pattern. I once took a multiple choice test in a high school English class on a novel I had not read. I passed the test with an A or B, I don’t recall. I guessed on the first few (well I guessed on them all), but I saw the pattern of the story. Well, worse than multiple choice is true or false, I mean you have a 50/50 chance at least, I would think.

In math multiple choice tests I have tried to round things off in my head when I was stumped as to the mathematical mechanics of working out the problem. Sometimes that seems to work, sometimes not.

Essay tests are what I do best at, except that when I wrote them in longhand in one of those blue exam books instructors often had a hard time reading them — I have a hard time reading my own writing in longhand (a forgotten art anyway, I understand). But essay tests, I think, are highly subjective, often dealing in opinion, at least somewhat. While some instructors are fair and only require you at least support your case, others will mark you down if you do not agree with them.

But back to the idea of testing, again, I think if the test is designed properly it ought to be able to measure something. One should not be able to get a high percentage of correct answers without demonstrating some knowledge of the subject.

The problem in real life comes when you have to use what you supposedly learned and demonstrated in the test on your own without the structure of the test. You have to design the problem and then solve it — and there you are, there is a realistic test. Present a list of facts and let the student solve the problem, showing the work done. This, of course would most likely be in math and science. They say students should be allowed to be creative. Well if you can find a different way from the norm to solve a problem and you show your work, that would seem good enough.

There is a lot of worry over whether students are analytical enough or if they are taught to be. I’m thinking that for the most part, some people are more or less naturally analytical and some are not. The ones who are may wind up in endeavors that require analysis, the others go into things where what is required is straight forward and analysis might get in the way or get you into trouble.

As far as studying, in the few math classes I took in college, I just worked out problems like crazy right up till the test. In my political science classes I knew what subject matter was going to be on my exams and I just wrote practice essays like crazy right up until the exam.

I think maybe reading things over and over again is not as helpful as actively doing something with the information.

I probably totally misconstrued that article I read — I got lost when they used the term “concept mapping“. I thought it was somewhat unclear or left some things out, but it got me to thinking anyway.

You can read it, if you haven’t already, and see what you think:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/21/science/21memory.html?hp

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