The Limited Benefits of Testing

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Finals approach in the steady march of an overwhelming, advancing army. Many of "my kids" are working hard to balance study with family for the holidays. Stress runs high. Even worse, some of the upcoming tests will fail to take advantage of the limited benefits of testing. Instead, they will be a waste of time and a detriment to the students taking them.

"Here's one example," one of my brilliant biochem kids shared. She paused to work out the simplest explanation so I could follow along. Then she quickly sketched a picture. "So, there are three double capillary networks in our bodies. One is in the brain. Basically, this piece secretes a hormone which triggers this other area to produce a different hormone. My latest test, which included the totally ridiculous 'a, b, c, b & c, and none' options, asked me to identify where the hormone would be highest. What does that even mean?"

Endocrinology
Endocrinology

She then went on to detail why the answer was obviously not this or that, but that it could reasonably be either of the other two. "The trouble is, I understand this material so well, I see issues with the questions."

She gave me two more examples, going into depth about the ambiguity of each option. She clearly knew what she was talking about (and taught the material well enough that I felt I had a solid grasp of the overarching ideas by the end).

Finally, she stopped. "I wish they just gave us oral quizzes so we could demonstrate what we know."

The Three Benefits of Testing

1. Testing Helps You Remember
Used correctly, by quickly quizzing yourself, tests help establish information in your memory. As I shared before, asking yourself to recall information helps you remember it. But this need not be a formal test. Simply asking for recall is enough.

2. Tests Provide You Outside Feedback
Tests are certainly imperfect tools, but they are tools nonetheless. It can be helpful, and encouraging, to see where your student excels and areas you may want to prioritize in the coming months. Judy has a great write up on this in her post about the second largest "hot topic" for homeschoolers.

3. Testing Benefits Those Running "the System"
There is a reason teachers, schools, businesses use tests. None of them benefit the student, but that's not the main concern for "The Man." You simply can't provide a comprehensive oral quiz for 200 students in an organic chemistry class (and not every student is going to do well with such a test either). Teachers already devote significant time to grading assignments and projects; adding the burden of grading open-response questions is impractical. Plus, without a rigid rubric for grading, teachers would be open to complaint of preferential treatment should one student be given higher marks than another. Giving students a Scantron is simply the only practical way for a classroom teacher to monitor students, however ineffective and detrimental.

Choose to Use Testing to Your Advantage

You, as a homeschooler, have the opportunity to use tests for the benefits to you and your student. You may be required to give your student tests now and again, but your children need not experience the dread of finals. You can focus on mastery of the content and the joy of learning together as family.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad

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