Are Exams the Best Form of Assessment?

I am not a good test taker. When it comes to exams, no matter how much I study or pay attention in class, nerves always seem to get the best of me and I freeze up, forgetting all the material. After several hours and hundreds of dollars spent on the best tutoring programs for SAT’s and ACT’s I still felt my scores did not accurately depict the type of student I am. I’m sure many other high school and college kids feel this way and would agree with me that other forms of assessment such as projects, presentations, and papers are better ways to test the understanding of the material.

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A test, by definition, is intended to measure and assess student’s knowledge on a specific subject. They are simply taken by students regurgitating facts they spent hours memorizing but not actually absorbing any of the concepts or understanding what they actually mean. Not only that, but exams don’t allow for any creativity or profound responses. Many times questions are looking for a single correct answer rather than a different outlook or idea on a certain concept. This causes students to only focus on specific exam questions rather than the topic as whole. Studies have found that in today’s society, students believe that good grades are more important than a firm understanding of the material. They have begun to study solely the information that will be tested and disregard any other information as unimportant (Brain Connection). How does this make for better learning? Memorization is not knowledge and if students cannot apply the material learned, what good it it? Simply put, exams are not true indicators of one’s intelligence and often times, limit students ability to actually comprehend the material rather than to just memorize it (Telegraph).

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Along with not fully grasping subject concepts, tests cause unnecessary stress in students that could hinder their learning. Many times students react to stress by not sleeping, not eating, and failing to concentrate which could mean they are not paying full attention in classes. Not only is their pressure from themselves to perform well, but teachers as well who are comparing them to their peers. To many teachers, a student’s success is only relevant if it is greater than that of it’s peers. Personally, I have experienced that while an “A-” on a test may be an outstanding grade for myself, it will not be the grade recognized by my teacher if it is not the best in the class. This causes me to put additional stress on myself to do better rather than focus on my own personal achievement (Brain Connection).

A final aspect to testing, is the fact that an exam assesses the student’s knowledge on that particular day, not taking into account external factors that may play a part in the student’s performance. Such factors could include sickness, injury, or family problems. Other forms of assessment such as projects, or presentations are done over a period of time rather than on a particular day in a specific time period giving the student more flexibility for other things to arise. Additionally, exams are evaluating a student’s individual attempt rather than their growth throughout the course as a whole. I believe that improvement is something to be accounted for rather than just a grade based on a single performance (Columbia University).

Various others forms of assessment to consider that could potentially replace testing, are sampling, stealth assessments and social and emotional skills surveys. Sampling is a way of evaluating students but less frequently. Instead of standardized tests for everybody, the district could administer tests to a “statistically representative” group of students rather than to every student annually. Hence the name, “sampling’. Stealth assessments diminish the time and anxiety of regular tests. They assess the students’ knowledge over a larger amount of time such as a semester or entire year rather than a single moment. Stealth assessments are administered online through a program which allows students to continuously practice math and english. Social and emotional skills surveys measures levels of hope, engagement, and well being which are good indicators of how well a student will perform on an assessment. This is to predict future scores and G.P.A.’s through the survey results (nprED).

Is it fair to say that for some students exams may not be the best form of assessment? Based on the information above I would say yes. Testing has shown to hinder creativity and original thinking, create stress among students and teachers, and fails to consider the growth/ improvement of the student as a whole. Overall, there are several other forms of assessments that could potentially be better suited to wider range of students that should be considered.





10 thoughts on “Are Exams the Best Form of Assessment?

  1. Benjamin R Tuohey

    I enjoyed this blog a lot and can relate to it. I am not very good at taking tests either, I often panic and get anxiety and then just rush though my tests. I also a lot of times don’t really know how and what to study. Test have never been my strong suit but I have been working to try and improve that. here are some strategies for not so good test takers

  2. Marissa Dorros

    I agree with your criticism of tests and I appreciate your proposal for alternative forms of assessment; however, it’s important to also consider what students are doing wrong as they prepare for their tests. As Andrew has emphasized, students tend to study hard instead of studying smart. While tests may not be the best form of assessment, many of the students who do well are the smart studiers, despite their test taking ability. As mentioned in your post, some people are better test takers than others, because everyone has different learning styles. However, even with some of the exam stressors lifted, such as having an extended time limit and low pressure like on Andrew’s tests, many students still don’t do well. This could be due to other variables, but it could also be the fault of the students. As humans, we often convince ourselves that we know more information than we do know, so it’s fair to assume that we think we’re better test takers than we are. This mentality leads to poor preparation, which results in disappointment when we get our exam grade back and it’s lower than we expected. While this may not always be the case, it is significant enough to take into consideration. This website explains the mechanism of how we assume we know information that we actually don’t know.

  3. Emma Murphy

    I have always struggled with test taking anxiety. The SATs were a bad experience for me to say the least. I recently met with one of my TAs to discuss an exam that I did poorly on but studied a lot for and was confident in myself knowing the material. When we were going over the test together I got every single answer correct, but when I was taking the exam I felt too much anxiety which caused me to freeze up and get a majority of the answers wrong. I agree with your conclusion that test taking is not the best way to assess knowledge. The evidence you found to support your conclusion was convincing and supported your post well.

  4. Michael A Lupo

    Although I recognize your point, I disagree with you. I feel that some assessments are the best way to test a student’s knowledge. The way the education system is set up in America, tests, and exam grades are proof that you grasping the material and able to regurgitate it. However, I do agree with you on the standardized testing level. Unlike regular exams where you are taught a subject and then tested on it, standardized tests challenge you to apply different concepts learned at various points in your academic career, and apply them to a centralized assessment. I feel that this is a flawed practice and should be done away with. If I were a college looking to accept students, my focus would be on the rank of their high school within their respective state, the level of courses taken, and GPA of course. I would put very little weight into the scores of standardized tests. I feel that they stress students out and regardless of how much preparation you put into them, you will get what you get no matter what. This is why SAT prep classes always say after three times your score is not likely to improve at all. Here is an article describing nine different ways we can assess student’s knowledge without having to worry about standardized tests. Take a look and see if you agree or disagree with any of these methods. I still maintain the thought that tests are the best way to test a student’s understanding of course material but I do not agree that standardized tests are the most effective way to test a student’s knowledge compared to their peers around the country.

  5. Chelsea Greenberg

    I am with you in that I am a bad test taker, especially standardized tests! I feel that they don’t actually test your knowledge, just your ability to regurgitate facts that you’ve accumulated through all of your years of education. I liked your post because you mentioned various reasons as to why testing doesn’t accurately represent our understanding of class material. However, I think if you added an example of studies that have been done, which I’m sure there have been, it would really elevate your blog.

  6. Danielle Megan Sobel

    Hello. I really resonated with this blog because no matter how hard I try and how “smart” I study, I never seem to succeed on standard tests and exams. In high school, I would study for 17 hours a week for my SAT’s and I got a lower score than I had planned. I always wonder what the reasoning behind this is because I have always gotten good grades, and grades that matched the level of effort and understanding I had in school. I know there are different types of learning, so I guess I have yet to figure out the best method of being examined. I worked on a project for the school board of my county for high school to plan different means of assessing all the information students have learned in the period of time.

  7. Matthew Jacobs-Womer

    I have to agree that students today are in it much more for the good grade rather than the retention of information- but that is what society has created. If you want to get in to a certain school you need to have “x” gpa or a specific gpa to enter a major. This stress of getting a specific grade is the reason behind why people are focusing on a grade rather than the information they retain- and most people don’t think the information matters in their classes matters anyways until they get to their major related courses. But there is also another way to look at course material, especially with math. I always wondered what was the point of some of the topics we covered in math. After debating with my friend about it, I came to the conclusion that it is not always about the specific content, but the problem solving strategies that go behind it. This is not the only thing that I found to have an alternate purpose. Homework. I always wondered why people in high school would choose not to do homework assignments, yes it took up time but it also ensured a major help to your grade. Doing home work always seemed to help with the class but it also built a good work ethic. Now, looking at the majority of the kids who never did anything assigned of them, none of them really did anything with their lives. Personally, I know people who were failed by the testing system. People I know that were far more intelligent than myself failed to get into Penn State because of test scores and GPA’s. It is not a system that works for everyone but it almost seems impossible to create one that does

  8. John Carney

    Whats good Avery. I really enjoyed this blog because i am not good at test taking as well. Even if I know the topic completely and fully i may not do as well as i thought on my exam. I do extremely well on homeworks, assignment, projects and presentations but when it comes to exams i am not the best. SAT/ACT do not test your ability to master or if you have mastered the the course. Many students get anxiety and blank out during exams. Its a very stressful process that many kids get scared and will forget the information, maybe even run out of time. This is why test taking is a terrible way to be assessed. Overall, great post and i agree with all the points in your researched.

  9. Molly Mccarthy Tompson

    I am from New Jersey. Over the past couple of years, a new form of standardized testing was implemented. It was called the PARCC. It replaced the HSPA, an exam we had to take to graduate high school. I missed the HSPA by one year and was forced to take the PARCC. There was almost an uprising in the state of NJ over this test! Some people claimed that teachers would spend more time teaching how to prepare for and take this standardized exam rather than teaching the valuable curriculum. One of my best friends from high school is just as smart as, if not smarter, than I am. We both took the ACT and I scored quite a few points higher than her. After we received our scores back, I decided that exams and tests might not be the best way to measure intelligence. This score did not accurately reflect her capabilities, in my opinion. I think she is just a bad test taker. I think that it is hard to come up with a way to measure an entire population’s academic capabilities and for now standardized tests are the best way to do so, but I do not believe they’re always correct measures of smartness.

  10. Hannah Margaret Mears

    I really enjoyed this article because ironically enough I was just discussing this topic today. I have always been a visual learner and more so hands on than just hearing someone lecture with a slide show. So, this is my question: Would it not be interesting to see several classes taught several different ways to a group of randomized students to see how well they performed with different teaching strategies? I think this study could be done with a simple random sample of students each being tested first on the strategy that they learn from best and then be put through lessons in a classroom to see which types they respond to better. For example, if someone is a visual learner maybe there could be a class teaching math with multiple videos, counting cubes, or even pictures of certain examples. Then, you could see if that student learned better in that atmosphere rather than a teacher just lecturing for an entire class period. This leads into discovering how a test should be drawn up and given to students so that they are understanding it for themselves. I think it is crucial to consider that every human is different and we all learned different ways. Effective

    The link leads to a site that lists teaching methods and goes into detail about what teaching strategies are effective for students learning. Is it possible that test scores actually do fall back on the teacher himself?

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