Are tests a good way to measure students’ knowledge?

By Nate Smith | Broadcast Reporter

As a college student, tests can dominate your entire education experience. They probably should, considering the fact that they can sometimes account for half of your entire grade. Since we spend all of this time studying for, stressing about and taking tests, I think we should ask ourselves the question: Are tests actually a good way to measure a student’s knowledge?

Personally, I think that they are a great way to measure a student’s knowledge, but only at the time when the test is taken. Think about it: how often do you have cram-sessions in hopes of memorizing all of the necessary material in the days leading up to a test, only to “brain dump” all of the things that you learned the second after you turn in the exam?

If you’re anything like me, you probably do it pretty often. That’s a great strategy if you want nothing more than a solid test grade, but it is not a great way to ensure that you retain the information that you’ve spent hours studying. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but we should care about the knowledge we obtain more than we care about our grade, not the other way around.

As much as you can blame the student for having their priorities twisted, you also have to blame the practice of giving tests itself. When taking a test, a student has no incentive to do anything outside of what is necessary to ensure that their desired grade is made. With that in mind, shouldn’t instructors be encouraged to use practices to measure students’ knowledge that makes them want to learn the information in such a way that they will actually retain it?

I think that should be the case, and there are virtually an endless amount of ways that you can measure a student’s knowledge.

One of the more popular ways to do this is by assigning essays. I know, most of us let out a massive groan every time that we hear that we have been assigned an essay. However, I think that this is a great way to measure what a student knows while ensuring that they actually become relatively knowledgeable in the topic at hand. On top of being a surefire way to make sure that students retain a large amount of what they’ve learned, it is also very efficient. When you write an essay, you’re not spending hours upon hours pouring over a textbook like you would before a test. Instead you’re spending maybe an hour or two gathering the information necessary to write the essay before expanding on that information using your own original thoughts. What better way to make a concept stick with a student than making them think and write about those concepts critically?

Another tried and true way to evaluate student’s knowledge in this way is with a presentation. When you hear presentation, your mind probably jumps to the boring PowerPoint presentations that you had to sit through during your ninth grade world history class. While this certainly is one mode of presentation, there are a variety of other ways you can have students present information, such as video presentations or speeches. These are not only ways that allow students to use their creative side to absorb and display information, but the change of pace that comes from hearing information coming from one of your peers can also do wonders for the audience when done properly.

Now, those are only a couple of different ways that you can evaluate a student’s knowledge without testing, but I think that they sufficiently got my point across. Everyone has their own unique set of talents and weaknesses, and students are no different. It is time that we start treating them as such.