Tests are overrated

Though tests are ubiquitously accepted as the academic standard for assessing learning, they are outdated and ineffective. Education should be about discovery, not memorization.

Tests narrow thinking by fueling extrinsic motivation and place an endpoint on learning. Multiple choice teaches us that there is one right answer, and essay tests are graded with a specific set of answers in mind. “Studying” for a test often means cramming the night before; the focus falls on quantity memorized (short-term) as opposed to quality learned (long-term). Tests are popular because they are safe, easy to grade, and nicely convert to GPA. But is the benefit of easy evaluation worth the detriment to discovery?

My best learning experiences happened when I had no idea where I was headed. My best instructors placed the outcome of my learning in my own hands and let me create my own adventure of discovery. Recently, I’ve been exploring the notion of wandering. It’s wandering that leads to serendipitous innovation and “aha” moments. Newton and Einstein understood the importance of wandering in creativity, so why isn’t wandering more accepted as a valid and potent learning mentality?

I believe in an education that is guided by experts but driven by the student, an education that provides a foundation to build upon as opposed to a container to be locked within. My dilemma is that my prioritization of learning clashes with our our model of assessment; my schooling gets in the way of my education. It perplexes me when students become so focused on GPA that they disregard their learning and even cheat to get a better score. I’d much rather learn more and receive a lower GPA. I don’t believe in GPA as a valid indicator of my learning and seek to do what’s best to develop my thinking and discovery of ideas.

My proposal: shift from an assessment-based model to a discovery-driven mindset. The assessment nature of tests places focus on the destination, while an emphasis on discovery highlights the journey. I enjoy papers and presentations so much more because there is no “one right answer” and because the process of information synthesis mixed with ideation is exciting to experience. I’m a strong proponent of the “show, don’t tell” philosophy. To me, tests are an attempt to tell how much you’ve learned but papers and presentations show how much you’ve learned.

Want to retain knowledge beyond a quarter/semester? Stop testing and start discovering.