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
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
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
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
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
- 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.