All tests are not beneficial

Despite the lack of enthusiasm students have for tests, a recent article in the New York Times titled, “To really learn, quit studying and take a test,” says they actually help students remember material in class.

Upon careful reading of the article, the type of test the researchers were studying was a free-style essay to be written after reading a passage in 10 minutes. This claim, then, should be taken with a grain of salt, as the practice tests being used in the research were not with Scantrons or other standard traditional college tests.

The article would more accurately be titled as, “To really learn, quit studying and write an essay.” Assuming that the article’s title was accurate though, there are some problems in regards to it.

The article cited newly published research in Science. The research found students who took a test requiring them to recall what they had read in an article retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who had crammed or drew concept maps.

Test taking is an age-old argument in education, and one can’t make a blanket statement the way the Times did with the article’s title. Boiled down, the title is basically saying, “Tests help people learn.” Really?

This doesn’t take into account the variety of tests, especially because the article in question had research to support only free-style writing. Furthermore, who’s to say this form of test taking isn’t simple regurgitation?

It isn’t showing whether you have learned more at all. Diagram-drawing students who research and draw conclusions have probably grasped more important concepts than a student who simply reports what he or she learned.

But really, the selling point of tests is that a student knows what to focus on, and will then be able to grasp major concepts and come away understanding the lessons imparted to them through test taking. Aren’t students learning what they are being tested on, then?

Anything learned in class that isn’t deemed as important is left out, and therefore is not learned. Test taking focuses on certain pieces of information, and the focus becomes more on the test than on the material itself. I know I’ve thought that way a couple of days before the exam – the information ceases to matter. I aim to grasp what will be tested on so I can perform well.

Test taking might not be the best way to achieve learning anyway. Other styles of education such Piaget’s method and Montessori’s programs are very successful in measuring aptitudes of students. These methods effectively teach students without testing (in the sense of the word as it has been used in this article).

So maybe tests don’t actually help you study. No definite conclusion can be drawn based on this article. I guess we’ll have to look elsewhere to find the answer.


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