Tests should reflect learning, not speed

Tatum Lindquist, Opinion Editor

We’ve all felt the rush before: the race with the clock, scrambling to calculate that last answer, or skim that last passage. Our education system distributes timed tests often enough, whether through AP exams and the SAT or as a result of a class period’s time restraints. Timed testing upfront presents a decent argument: it provides the same amount of time for all students to demonstrate their understanding of a subject. The issue comes when students can no longer complete a timed test.

I personally dealt with the disappointing thought of not finishing a test as a freshman during my general chemistry final. The final consisted of 75 questions with an 84-minute class period, which seemed reasonable to me the days leading up to the test. But while taking it, I discovered that a majority of the questions included lengthy calculations, and I soon realized—with much dismay and heartbreak—that I could not finish that test at the pace I was working. I did not finish that final, and neither did many others. In fact, I later found that many of my peers chose to randomly fill in their remaining bubbles at the last minute.

I left my remaining bubbles blank though. I felt cheated out of demonstrating what I had learned. I still do. I know I could answer each and every single one of those question correctly—if only I had had enough time.

Timed testing often goes hand-in-hand with the natural time constraints of the school day, but the amount and difficulty of questions should be taken into account. The sole purpose of tests is for students to demonstrate their learning, but when students can no longer complete a test due to an unproportional distribution between the difficulty and amount of questions, the test no longer serves its purpose. It only turns into a tool used to shatter students’ motivation and self-esteem.

With a grade-oriented culture like Liberty, the majority of students take tests seriously. At this age, many view tests and grades as one of the most important components of their lives. So when our hard work and studying fails to pay off, some of us will take a hit in our perceived self-worth and confidence.

But another reason I feel I couldn’t finish my chemistry final may have been due to my lacking experience in pacing myself. As a freshman, I still needed to learn and practice different strategies for timed tests. If I had known the skills I use today, such as skimming and skipping questions I don’t know off-the-bat, I might have been able to use my time more efficiently.

Because of this, I ask teachers to not simply consider the difficulty of questions in proportion to the length of the test but also consider the grade level and experience of their students. We need to be taught not only the subject but also the skills required to complete timed tests in order to succeed academically and boost our morale.