To test, or not to test…

To test, or not to test…

To test or not to test? Evidence increasingly shows that we should test children as often as possible. However this should not be mistaken for an excuse to simply assess children, much more to facilitate the shift of information from their Working to their Long-Term Memories. Roediger & Karpicke (2006) explored the relative merits of traditional study sessions versus practice tests in preparation for an assessment. Whilst the control group performed slightly better if the assessment was sat immediately after the sessions, the practice test group came into their own when the assessment was sat just a week later. The former’s retention dropped by a staggering 40%, compared to just a 10% fall for the practice test group.

In other words if we want to embed curriculum content into the Long Term Memory store (as per the demands of GCSE and A- Level), then we should seriously consider how often we put our students in test scenarios. But what about student anxiety levels I hear you cry? Therein lies the crux of the matter. Over the years the word “test” or “exam” has become the catalyst for an explosion of angst in my classes; “what’s the pass mark?”, “does the result count towards our grades?” and even “is it an important test?”. My response is now a uniform “The result is irrelevant. The learning you will do, and the experience of sitting the test are relevant”. In other words we should be reflecting on howwe set tests; do they need to be high stakes when the real benefits of sitting a test are virtually unaffected by making them low or even no stakes? Reassuringly, there are now studies that suggest that children who are exposed to regular low / no stakes testing perform better than others when they do finally sit a high stakes test (perhaps just because they are so used to tests).

To finish as we started, with a twisted Shakespeare quote; “if testing be the food of learning, play on, give me excess of it”…. Just please don’t stress out the kids in doing it!

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