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Exploring the Role of Exams in Modern Education and the Need for Change


Exams are an extremely important component of American education. Students must take tests to demonstrate proficiency in a subject area. Exams are also a primary means of determining who gets into college.

We educators begin testing students at early ages. Those who perform well end up with an advantage in life. We place them in advanced classes while in elementary school. There, they learn things that can place them on the right path to academic success. Others, who perhaps do not perform as well on our tests, can go in the opposite direction.

With so much riding on exams, it is only fair for those of us in the teaching professions wonder if we can make testing more student-friendly. We explore that issue, but first, let us consider how the current emphasis on tests developed.

 

A Brief History of Modern Testing

Measuring aptitude became a national concern during World War I. The Army wanted to know the “intelligence” of its recruits. This knowledge would allow them to place the soldiers in the right positions, they believed.

The use of intelligence tests continued after World War II. A major reason was the growth of the military industrial complex. During the war, the government invested heavily in the Manhattan Project to create the Atomic Bomb. This weapon, though horrific, helped end the war, saving many lives that would have been lost during the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland.

To educators, the future was clear.  No one component of society led to the technological advancement in atomic power. University professors in California teamed with government physicists in Tennessee, both of whom took orders from Army generals; meanwhile, the government and private corporations provided. It took a united effort to bring about this magnificent scientific achievement.

Education, our profession, changed as a result of the war era. The classroom, administrators relaxed, could be a place of practical societal benefits. After the war, the government continued funding academic research. The age of the teaching university had ended. Now, the goal of educators was to publish innovative scholarship.

However, there was a problem. How useful would such a professor be to the average student? The answer was to change the makeup of the colleges. Academic institutions needed the best and the brightest, so to speak, sitting in their classrooms. Students who can understand the research and use it in life.

So, entered the test makers. The College Board, a private company located in Princeton, became one of the final deciders of who got into college. Its SAT became the standard exam for admission. Yes, grade point averages and extra-curricular activities matter, but SAT scores remain, to this day, the most important individual portion of a college application.

High school students across the nation take this exam knowing full well that a good score can mean acceptance into a prestigious college. Those who cannot master this exam, or those given in our classrooms in the years leading to high school, may not have a chance at higher education.

Testing is a national obsession. We now have standardized exams at all levels of education, from primary school to college. We also quiz and test our students on material regularly as a way to know whether they know the material. However, is there a better way to measure intelligence, aptitude, ability and proficiency?


Is Modern Testing Fair?

American society is supposedly a meritocracy. Those who work hard should have the opportunity to achieve success. Only a lack of initiative should hold them back. Tests are one way to help ensure fairness.

According to our thinking, anyone can earn a good score on an exam. Tests are no respecters of persons. One born poor can study and achieve academic success as well as one of the manor born.

Yet, not all in the education establishment believes tests create a meritocracy. Nicholas Lemann, in his book The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy argued persuasively that instead of truly making these fair for all, exams have helped create a new elite. People who do well taking exams achieve success.

We still have questions to ponder. What exactly do exams measure?

 

Exam Bias is a Problem

Cultural biases are a problem critics find with exams. Test writers can inadvertently provide certain sectors of society with advantages over others. For example, so-called “good” English differs quite often from that form spoken in some parts of society. Residents of these areas can find exams quite difficult to understand. They can also face problems in their public schools when we force them to speak in a manner different from that at home.


Exam Anxiety is a Problem

Exams can also be a problem because they are a winner take all system Student must do well or that is it. One can prepare for months or even yard for a test and then have a bad day. It does not matter. The score will remain part of an academic record for life.

The knowledge that exam performance matters much can lead to anxiety. Test takers know going in the importance of their scores. For some people, this motivation can be good. They can be pushed to excel. Others can become too anxious to think clearly.


Some Tests are Boring


Ultimately, we educators must face a reality of life in the 21st century. Students often see our tests as boring. This is a high-tech, visual society. Young people are not used to sitting around all day reading books. They spend their days posting on social media sites, playing with video games and downloading the latest music.

When educators present them with an hour-long exam, today’s students find their attention waning. In comparison to playing video games or watching blockbuster movies in 3-D, staring at a test paper seems understandably unappealing.


 

Solutions to the Problems Inherent in Modern Exams

Not all is lost. The education establishment just needs to admit that times have changed. We can use advancements in technology to our advantage.

Here are some possible ways to enhance modern testing techniques:

  • Use computer based quizzes;
  • Integrate sound into exams;
  • Use video guests to ask test questions;
  • Employ questionnaires to find out what students enjoy going;
  • Base exams on databases of student interests.

To make tests more enjoyable means integrating technology into the classroom setting. Our students want to be able to feel comfortable while taking exams.

Video and sound can help eradicate exam anxiety. Rather than seeing tests as insurmountable obstacles that decide their academic face, contemporary students may find them difficult tasks they enjoy overcoming, similar to computer games.

It is also essential to store databases on student interests. These can help present and fruit teachers create tests that center on the things that students find interesting. We must remember that it is their education, not ours. It is possible to make exams challenging without ignoring the wishes of students.

 

Finding Material to Enhance the Exam Experience

There are a large number of free and paid tools available to use to enhance exams. For example, teachers can use our quiz maker software, where they can find a quiz maker with a built-in database manager to keep track of students.

It is the responsibility of each of us in the education profession to make our classes places where real learning occurs. Tests are necessary and the country has remained a world power partly because of its highly educated population. Yet, the paper and pencil exam may have seen its time pass.

Students want their classroom to be a place where they can feel at home. There is a natural degree of anxiety whenever we take tests. There is little we can do about mere nervousness. However, it is also true that by incorporating new methods, educators can make things better for those forced to take our tests.

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