Testing Your Patience

Bad Test Taker

I’ve been fortunate enough to have good test-taking skills, but I acknowledge that there is such a thing as a “bad test taker”. Taking a test can be arduous work. Not everybody is adept at transferring information from their brains onto a sheet of paper. It’s sort of like riding a bike; you might be able to describe the physical workings of a bicycle in exquisite detail, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to put those principles into practice when you’re on the banana seat.

Testing is a complex process and one of the most hotly debated issues in all of education. There are as many theories about how to properly administer a test as there are subjects to test people on. Tests must provide the teacher with valid data. That means the teacher has to come up with a means of testing his or her students in such a way that only their content knowledge is being tested. The test has to somehow avoid barriers that may prevent the student from expressing his or her knowledge. And oh my, there are barriers. There are language barriers, cultural barriers, socioeconomic barriers, barrier reefs, Chuck Berriers, and now I’m just getting silly.

And that doesn’t even account for students whose brains engage a natural fight-or-flight response when a test paper is placed in front of them. A body full of adrenaline is not the ideal situation for when you have to take a high-stakes test.

There’s just no way to devise a test that is completely neutral, and there are always going to be students who are at a disadvantage. A student who does well in one class may suffer when he or she enters a different class with a different testing strategy. A capable teacher uses first-hand knowledge of his or her students to decide which students have truly mastered the material and which students have not.

Let me rephrase that: a teacher would use first-hand knowledge of his or her students to decide who passes…if teachers weren’t saddled with over-sized classes and forced to give standardized tests as end-of-year exams. When a bad test taker finds himself in a classroom with enough students to stage a full-scale production of The Longest Day, and whose final exam is being written by people in a city he’s never been to, he might have a hard time getting the attention he needs to demonstrate that he really knows what he’s doing. So yeah…I can see a little anxiety coming from that situation.

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