What are we assessing in examinations?

Teaching Methodology

What are we assessing in examinations?

It continues to amaze me how entrenched people are in their perspective and how bound by policy or habit. What are exams for if only to obtain an accurate account of a learner’s knowledge and skills and judge them against others? But what if a learner’s knowledge and skills cannot be assessed by sitting in front of a piece of paper and writing down answers to two dimensional questions and requiring a specific form of recall and cognitive processing? Does this mean that they do not have the knowledge?

When asked “What are the characteristics of a planned economy” they stare blankly. But when encouraged to recall foundational knowledge of what an economy is, then prompted to describe different types of economy, then given time to make the links between their advantages and disadvantages… then the light comes on. Ah! If a planned economy is controlled by the government, then this is a planned economy, which means it looks like this, which means these are the characteristics!

So they did understand the question, and they did have the knowledge, but they couldn’t recall the content… so the examination paper remains blank.

If we only teach the content, but students are not given the opportunity to communicate their understanding and made to feel a failure rather than experience the thrill of success and the buzz of understanding something new, what is the point of examinations?

Ah! I hear the pedants cry “it proves their perseverance in acquiring new knowledge and displays marketable skills!” But you were not there when the student struggled through the lessons, your heart did not break when they failed over and over, and you did not swell with pride as they finally succeeded and the light came on and their face shone. You will not be there when they enter the job market (and don’t pretend you can predict the jobs that will be available to them, or the skills these as yet non-existent jobs will require) so again… what is the point?

Just a thought….

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