Get Out of the Rut: A Different Perspective on Testing

Thorough feedback, assigned revisions, and individual conversations can turn tests into a learning tool.

By Bethany Bodenhamer

student and teacher

Tests. Every teacher gives them and every student takes them. The purpose behind this practice in our current education system is for the learner to demonstrate his knowledge. It is his opportunity to prove he has learned the current material and is ready to move on to the next unit.  

All too often, tests are given, scored, and returned—that is it. The instructor simply moves on with the curriculum, regardless of the results from the assessment. Whether the class has mastered the content or completely missed the mark, deadlines must be met and unit calendars adhered to. This leaves the teacher with little time to address test results before moving on. 

There are some simple and quick steps that teachers can take both prior to and after the exam that will provide students with the opportunity to use the test as another learning tool, instead of merely as an assessment. 

Before the Test

  • Backward Mapping: Instead of teaching the unit and then deciding what you want to test on, do it the other way around. Before you plan your lessons for a specific chapter or topic, decide what the most important concepts are that you want your pupils to grasp. Then, design your lectures, assignments, and activities around these core elements. This way, students are not being forced to cram for all sorts of information because they are being tested on the main themes that were consistently and repeatedly covered throughout the unit.
  • Teach Conceptually: As states move toward the Common Core standards, the emphasis on individual facts, true/false, and multiple choice questions is fading. Instead, learners are expected to be able to analyze, conceptualize, and synthesize the information they learned. They must show their work, explain their answers, and defend their opinions. This new way of testing must be accompanied with a new way of teaching. Ditch the hour-long lectures and the fill-in-the-blank worksheets. Turn to more hands-on assignments, discussion-based lessons, and critical thinking activities to prepare pupils adequately. 
  • Pretest: Halfway through the unit, stop and give your class a brief pretest. Assess them on the main ideas already taught. This can be accomplished in an individual, partner, or group format, as well as written or verbal. It does not need to be formal, as its main intent is to show you if your learners (and you) are on the right track. At this point, it is not too late to change things around (e.g. spend more time on a certain lesson or reteach a concept in a different fashion) if your class is showing they do not quite have the information mastered. 

After the Test

  • Class Review: After passing back the tests to your class, go over the entire exam with them. This does not have to take a long time, and can be done in under ten minutes. Call on pupils who got the questions correct to share their answers. Too often students have no understanding as to why their answer is not correct, and never come to find out what the accurate response is. 
  • Revise: Give your class the assignment of fixing their errors. Allow them to use their notes, texts, and discussions with peers to assist them in their revisions. Provide class time or assign as homework. This is perhaps the most important step to transforming tests into learning tools and not just assessment tools. 
  • Discuss: When your pupils complete their exam revisions, have an individual discussion with them regarding their changes and additions. This will help to ensure they understand their errors and corrections, and didn’t just copy off a neighbor. Time probably will not permit you to go over all of the revisions with each of your students, so choose two or three to discuss with each one. 
  • Reteach: If a significant percent of your class missed similar questions, chances are that concept needs to be retaught. Keep in mind, because so many failed to understand it the first time, you may want to change the way in which you deliver the information for the second time through. 

Lesson Planet Resources:

Ways to Reinforce Learning With Meaningful Activities

Instead of teaching minute facts through lectures and books, transition your teaching into more meaningful and hands-on activities that will more properly prepare your classes for testing in today’s educational system. Engaging your pupils in inquiry-based learning will result in a more authentic learning experience. 

Developing Effective Study Habits

Regardless of what you plan to do with your class after the exam is given, good study habits are a must to performing well on exams. Help guide your test takers towards strategies that work for them and encourage them to continue to build their repertoire of such study aids. 

Not All Classrooms Are Created Equal

Not all students learn the same, therefore they cannot all be taught the same. Your mode of delivery of identical content may have to change from class period to class period, in order for all your students to be successful come exam time.