Are Tests Torture Or Nurture?

Has it ever happened to you when you entered the classroom enjoying chit-chat with your mates and then suddenly your teacher decided to give you a test at the very beginning of the lesson? How did you feel at that moment? Confused? Angry? Anxious?Irritated? Or all in one package?

A lot of learners, if not all of them, have negative backwash of tests since school time. Traditionally, learning is considered to take place while studying, whereas retrieval of information on testing simply serves to assess what has been learned. In this article, I will share some observations and ideas, that, probably, may change your attitude to some learning techniques such as testing. But, first, it is worth clarifying what retrieval actually stands for. Cambridge dictionary defines retrieval as the process of getting back information that is stored on a computer. If we apply it to human memory, the power of retrieval in consolidating information plays a crucial role. First and foremost, retrieval practices produce large gains in long-term retention. Secondly, it promotes conceptual learning about the subject.

Probably, you will want to throw stones at me, if I make an assumption that tests can be beneficial. A lot of teachers teach the test but not with the test. As a result, students can notice no benefit of doing the test but only receiving a good mark. How about teaching WITH the test not TO it? A psychologist Andrew Butler concluded that repeated and varied testing can help students transfer their learning to new tasks better than simply studying or rereading information or extensive note-taking. Which brings us to a logical question, what is an ideal test? In short, it is the one that can measure students’ progress and helps educators teach more effectively. It reminds me of a theory exam in a driving school, where to remember information one does a lot of multiple-choice tests repetitively. Does it mean that driving instructors know some secret of the real gains of regular testing? The truth is, if you do test the rules, especially with some visual aids, you can notice the rules, which are quite difficult and repeat them another day with a bunch of new rules altogether.

Most learners still use rereading and highlighting, yet, these techniques do not substantially improve students’ performance, so other more effective techniques such as testing come in place.

Initially, students usually do not have a complete understanding of WHY the tests are given to them. Mainly, they hear from their teachers that the latter will check what they have learned so far, which leads to some negative attitudes to testing due to increased levels of anxiety.

In many countries evaluation and testing are used to check the performance of the learners, based on which teens can either can follow their dreams and enter the alma mater of their dream or if it turns out to be low they have little or no chances to do what they really want in their life. This radical judgement leads to low self-esteem and a high level of anxiety. It made me think about the real purpose of evaluation and testing systems and how to make them a less stressful event for learners. At the end of the day, we shouldn't forget about acquiring new knowledge, being able to notice the gap between the input and the intake and developing 21-century skills. Becoming aware of the benefits of tests is crucial for all learners without an exception, and it’s the task of each and every educator to raise this awareness in order to create a more positive experience in the classroom and to build up trust as well as faith in testing among the learners. These days many teachers are constrained by modular syllabus, where after the module is over, the topic is never brought up again. Lack of active recall results in forgetting the knowledge.

It may lead us to a logical conclusion that understanding WHY the tests are given matters especially if it is accompanied by some convincing examples so that students use it as a tool of active recall and retrieval rather than to consider it another torture of imperfect system of education.

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