Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cram, Memorize, Forget: Why TESTS are the problem with higher education

I have been in college for almost 4 years now. In that time I have taken roughly 25 Final exams and if I guessed low (assuming each class has a final, 1 midterm and 2 quizzes) I've been tested over 100 different times. This is mostly the same with every college student. On top of that I have maintained around a 3.75 GPA. So I'm not just floating along getting C- grades. If grading and tests work, it's safe to assume I should know a lot about a number of different subjects right?

Let me attempt to recall any specific math problem, stat, theory, scientific name, principle, law of nature, scientific equation or anything else I should know in the 85th percentile.


I'm having a difficult time remembering. Give me a sec. I know there has to be something...


I know my chemistry teacher was a little weird. 
The girl that sat by me in sociology was really cute. 
If I ever forgot a fact that I needed for a paper I could just google it. 
Science was boring.
If I move the decimal 2 places to the left after a percent it's the same thing. (85% = .85)
There "might" be life on other planets (wasted a whole semester on that one...)

I'm sure there are at least a couple more things I remember from my tests... I'll get back to you.

General education requirements and the testing system is killing it! I know so much! I'm so glad that passing a class is determined by how much we could regurgitate correctly on exams than by how much we could actually apply it in real life. It is BY FAR the best way. 

This is the downfall of the Korean people. I love them to death but I'll let you in on a little secret. If you were to have an english conversation with a Korean person that scored well on the TOEFL (english foreign language test), most of the time you would be surprised at how bad they are at holding a conversation. Those asians study for hours and hours and hours and hours. Studying is the most important thing to them because if they don't pass their tests they are screwed for the rest of their life. Most Korean people know more about english grammar than Americans. They would pass our english classes with flying colors but yet they cannot speak it. They never learned to actually apply what they learned. What is the use of knowing a language if you can't actually speak it?! Applying concepts is what gets you far in life, not your ability to memorize and regurgitate. 

I'll admit, I do have a slightly easier time memorizing things quickly than other people. The only advantage this skill gives me in taking tests, however, is time. The majority of people are totally capable of memorizing just as well, it may just take them a little longer. With that being said, taking tests is like regurgitating. We cram all the info into our head that we think we will need, regurgitate it all onto the test, and walk away. If we were to be tested on the same material even a few days later I would be willing to bet people's scores would be significantly lower. Comment if you think I'm wrong, but this is what I've observed.

I've found the loophole!

Are students learning the material? Or are they just learning how to memorize and take tests according to what their teacher expects. When I start a semester, the first test in every class is usually a lower grade than the ones that follow. After that, I figure out how the teacher tests, and change my studying to match what I will be required to know. (i.e. Andy Anderson tests extensively on tiny little details in "did you know" boxes from the book. Studying just those would almost yield a higher grade, than reading the entire chapter.) 

Some teachers try to make their tests seem like they are a better measure of what students know by giving fill in the blank or open ended essay questions. This may be a little better, and certainly harder for students but I've still passed my fair share of those by simple memorizing and regurgitating as well. It just took me longer.


Class projects
Now, here is a better idea. Get students working and applying what they learn in the classroom. This is the best way I see that teachers can help their students actually learn. Applying the knowledge you are supposed to be understanding, and learning from your mistakes is a surefire way to retain important information. This is where I grew the most in college. 

For example: in a marketing class, if I can successfully create a plan to enter a new product into a market, and get a decent return on my investment, why does it matter if I can regurgitate some textbook author's idea of the 5 "must know" steps of marketing. Every author and teacher has their own different idea of what is right. I hear teachers rag on the books they teach out of ALL THE TIME. So why are you teaching it to us? Why do we have to learn these opinionated ideas and count them as sure fact?

---The problem: Even when teachers do this, they all still have it stuck in their mind that if they aren't giving you a written test on the material, you aren't learning it. ---


So how in the hell did I do the project and get the grade I did? (Assuming I got decent grades on my project). I must have just been able to BS my way through it and pull the wool over the teacher's eyes really good. If I can do that, they're giving out the wrong assignments or they shouldn't be teaching...

Side note: If this blog post was a slice of bread, the sarcasm I'm buttering on would be an inch thick. Try fitting that in your toaster.

If a teacher teaches the material well enough, and students learn to apply it in some kind of project or paper, they shouldn't have to be forced to regurgitate useless numbers and information that could honestly be found in the real world by going to Google. Are you trying to tell me that when I get a job, Google will cease to exist so we better turn our heads into a search engine full of knowledge we may only need once in our lives? Great teaching strategy. Although, I guess that could make sense if we're not by a computer, because technology will never get to a place where you could do that kind of stuff on a portable device you carry with you everywhere...

Group projects. Those are great but they also have their bad aspects. There is always the student that goes for the free ride and lets everyone else do the work but still benefits from the grade. Fine! There are ways to deal with that like group evaluations that you give to the teacher, it's still better than giving a test.

Oh! I just remembered some other things I learned and retained from some of my classes. The thing is, I didn't learn them from being tested... 

-In english I learned that energy drinks are responsible for a lot of problems, but the main addiction is not from caffeine, it's from a lifestyle addiction. I learned this because our teacher had us pick something we were interested in, apply the analysis and writing skills we were supposed to be learning in that class, and write a paper on it. At the same time I learned how to analyze information and write it in a professional matter. I couldn't tell you the name of specific rules of writing and skills I learned but I'm using those same analyzing and writing skills in this very blog. 

-I learned in economics that if I buy movie tickets for one night, but I have friends say they want to do something more fun that night, I go with my friends and that is an economic principle. I'd rather do the fun thing and not go to the movie, than go to the movie and miss out on the fun. I'm only lucky that I had that situation come about as I was in that class or I never would have remembered it. I couldn't tell you how to graph that info or what all the economic terms involved are, but the things I remember about economics I learned from actually applying it. 

-I learned in a marketing project how to put together a national marketing campaign for a product. I am in that class right now and honestly couldn't tell you all the technical terms associated and what "5 habits" from the book we applied. I could definitely do it again and from my professor's criticism, could definitely do it better next time.  

Just some stuff to think about. I can safely say that almost NONE of the things I have learned and retained from college came from a test. (There are those random things that stick around for who knows why but, other than that, real learning came from application or personal pondering of ideas.

A lot of people can get through college without learning a thing in the classroom. I won't blame it all on the teachers, because some teachers do a very good job. In spite of bad teaching, those students that want to learn... will. Whether teachers are smart enough to make learning easier by how they teach in the classroom is up to them. 

If you are a teacher and decide to teach "effectively," I say, don't kid yourself by thinking you still have to give written tests. That's what the world wants you to do. That's what they expect. In a world where we are "taught" to be creative and try new things, why are the "teachers" the ones still lagging behind?

I would love to see less emphasis on final exams and written tests, and more on using the time we have during a semester, to apply and critique student application of the concepts required.

EXCEPTIONS: There are some exceptions. Among others doctors and lawyers have to rely on their vast knowledge to treat patients or win cases. To pass the MCAT or the LSAT takes a lot of memorization. However, this isn't the regurgitating kind of memorization because it's vital for their career. If they forget they are SOL. Doctors do it right both ways though by making students do clinic duty before they can be a professional. This way they can see how the facts that they learned work out in a real world setting. If you're a med student or law student kudos to you. I can't do that. I tried. 

One last thing to think about. Med students need tests. Art students need to create things. Business students need to learn leadership skills. Engineering students need to build models. If all majors and disciplines are so different, 
why is the universal way of grading success based on written testing?

Let me know what you think. I'm just one person with my own ideas. If yours are different I'd love to hear them. I'm open to any different opinions.

Keep it real out there. Do what you gotta do.


1 comment:

  1. Um Amen brother! Love it. Love the new blog header pic. You're the greatest.