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Assessing What They've Learned

Warwick B. Elley

As teachers, we should be clear why we are testing. We should not test just because it is always done. Certainly, tests often do help motivate students to work harder. But the results can be discouraging too, if the results are poor.
In fact, the purpose of the test should affect the kind of test given. Thus, a formal selection examination will normally cover a large number of skills and topics lightly, and most questions should be of middle difficulty level. Mastery tests on a particular unit will be more intensive, with several questions on each of a few topics to see whether they are mastered or not. Some tests should be relatively hard for all pupils, (e.g., Diagnostic tests). Some will be lengthy and formal with elaborate marking schemes (e.g., End-of-year examinations); at other times the teacher will give short, informal quizzes with emphasis on quick feedback. Sometimes the need is for many short questions which can be objectively marked. At other times the teacher's purpose will be better served with a few long answer questions. It is important therefore that we think through our reasons for testing.

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