Tests are an ineffective measure of intelligence

February 9, 2018

Since transitioning to college, I have had time to reflect on my high school experience from a new perspective. My course plan was practically plotted out for me from the beginning of the year. The struggle to build a resume was a constantly looming task. Most of these problems have seemingly evaporated since I have come to college. The main complaint I hold from high school, however, remains the weight placed on tests.

There are situations in which tests are appropriate ways to determine students’ level of mastery. A foreign language teacher can use tests as a valuable tool to gauge the offhand knowledge students have about the language. This type of knowledge has a particular importance in learning a foreign language as one’s ability to speak in a language is limited by the extent of one’s ingrained memory of the specific vocabulary and grammatical concepts.

In almost all other subjects, however, memory is not a top priority. With the advent of the internet, a fact can be looked up with a quick Google search and, with a few more seconds, can be cross-referenced with two other sources. While many teachers claim their tests judge pure analysis, in the end memorization becomes a large part of students’ preparation for exams. In high school, and even college, there were times when I would cram an entire semester’s worth of information to pass an exam, and forget it after finishing the test. In an abstract way, knowledge becomes a phase rather than something learned.

Instead of testing a student’s ability to memorize a given amount of information, why not stress projects or writing assignments to critically assess a student’s knowledge and ability to use given information. These types of assessments better reflect how work is done in the real world. If a student finds a gap in their understanding, they can remedy it with a quick search and then incorporated it into the project. Instead of managing time on the small scale by rushing to finish a test on time, the student is learning large scale time management skills by figuring out how to meet deadlines. Most professions do not require test taking skills, but do need strong time management skills in order to reach important deadlines. Using projects and essays is not only a benefit for the class, but for future career success.

Would a student actually learn the material more effectively through a project rather than through a test? In terms of the scale of the material, a student focusing specifically on a small portion of a subject matter may only show mastery of a small portion of the material. This should not be seen as a negative. As it stands, the student with a head dense with knowledge the day before a test has an empty mind by the end of the month. Long-term assignments allow the student some creativity when expressing her understanding. The information that a student focuses on will be more likely to stick with her if she develops a close relationship with the subject in this way.

We don’t need to get rid of tests, we need to change our priorities. If we favor long-term assignments over tests, we can bring new life to the way a student learns. Knowledge will be something sought after rather than something begrudgingly digested.

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