Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Teach Students to be Testwise (Testwiseness Part Two)

Some instructors may be horrified at the suggestion that we teach students test-taking strategies, let alone testwise strategies. Allow me to suggest why teaching students some testwise strategies is a good thing.
  1. It levels the playing field

    Some students already know slogans like "when in doubt, choose c" even if they don't know the rationale behind it. If some students are testwise and others are not, it is not a level playing field. The assessment becomes inaccurate because the test is now measuring testwiseness rather than the skills and knowledge intended, since students who are testwise can significantly increase their scores (on poorly constructed tests). Instructors need to ensure their assessment is measuring learning outcomes not cultural capital. Teaching everyone the same basic testwise skills levels the playing field by ensuring everyone has the same knowledge.

  2. It reduces test anxiety

    Students often do poorly in testing situations because of test anxiety. Students with test anxiety often feel they have no control over the many variables that make the outcome of the test uncertain: which subtopics will questions be drawn from, how hard each question will be, how long it will take them to remember and answer or solve for a question, the reading level of the question, the ambiguity of the question stem or of the answers offered, and so on. Having some strategies available for topics about which they know or recall little significantly reduces overall anxiety because it gives the student a sense of control. "Well, at least I know what to do if I have no clue what the answer is!" As part of a lesson on how to study for and take multiple-choice tests (two previous posts on this blog), giving students some testwise strategies goes a long way towards lowering (though never eliminating) test anxiety.

  3. It forces teachers to write better multiple-choice tests

    Testwise strategies only work on poorly constructed tests, so if students know testwise strategies, teachers are forced to develop the test-construction skills, and to take the time necessary, to write the better tests necessary to defeat testwiseness.

Students must always be cautioned, however, that the only way to do well on tests is to learn the course material, and that they should not rely on testwise strategies. It is natural for some students (especially in middle school) to embrace testwise strategies as a substitute for studying, so it is important for instructors to note that these strategies will not work on one's own tests, because one's own tests are properly constructed.

Sadly, I have also encountered some instructors who take teaching test-taking strategies to the point of emphasizing these strategies over actual curriculum (i.e., teaching to the test). Such teachers are thinking like a middle school adolescent and should be relieved of their teaching certification.

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