Why I hate tests and why you should too

Multiple choice test formThe teacher explains everything to us and hands out the forms and pencils.

“You’ve got about thirty minutes to complete the test” she says. “Study the question and then choose your answer from the given choices, A, B, C, D or E. When you’ve chosen your answer, take you pencil and colour in the square on the answer grid.”

It’s 1984 and the dawn of multiple choice exams. We’re in the future now. We’re going to be tested by a computer to see if we’re thick.

“What if you change your mind, miss?” says some smart alec.

“Good question. Don’t rub out your answers, just put a large cross through it and make another choice.” she says, “We can then feed the sheets into our computer and it will record you answers instantly.”

It all sounds like a great idea. The computer will read the carbon from our pencil leads I presumed. But what a great test, just look at it, they were actually giving us the answers! How hard can this be?

It’s announced that the test has begun and we all start reading the questions. The fact that they’ve given us the answers was no consolation at all as the four alternative answers are so believable that they might as well be the answer too. How could I tell which was the right one to put? I’m used to giving a considered answer to a question and justifying how I arrived at it. here I can only guess. There are questions like, ‘which is the next shape in the sequence’, ‘if it takes so much time for so many men to dig a hole, how long will it take half a man to dig half a hole.’ that sort of thing. This isn’t as easy as I’d imagined. What are they trying to find out about us? I start to sweat and second guess my own answers. I try to get inside the head of the examiners, knowing they’re trying to trick me.

I look up and around the hall at my compatriots. They all have their heads down. Except one scruff who has his hand up. His pencil is broken. I look down at the answer grid again. Forty questions are listed down the sheet. Five boxes, A to E across. I look at the first twelve answers I’ve put. On the grid they don’t look quite random. There’s a pattern forming. It reminds me of the reel of paper computer tape my Dad had given me that contained a programme, punched in dots, for one of his machine tools. Perhaps the answer grid works like that here? Perhaps the dots of my answers create a pattern of their own, an answer to a much bigger question? A light comes on in my mind. That’s what they’re looking for! The questions are just on the surface, leading the brightest minds to ponder their meaning to solve a greater, more meaningful riddle!

The pattern formed seems to look like a double-helix, like a strand of DNA, spiraling down the answer grid. I’ve found it! I re-arrange my answers to better suit the DNA pattern and complete the answer grid based on my startling new hypothesis. Then it’s all over, time’s up. Papers and pencils collected. Breaktime, we all go outside.

They say that a monkey can get at least 28% in a multiple test. A monkey. If you filled it in randomly you’d get 28%. If you just put all As you’d get 28%.

I got 16%. Less than a monkey, and got put on the stupid list.

In the end, what did it actually prove? Was I in effect extremely clever for imagining that there was so much more to the test? Or was I really extremely stupid for imagining there was more to the test?

We don’t know. That’s why I hate tests and that’s why you should too.

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6 comments on “Why I hate tests and why you should too

  1. It’s still happening today: at my place of work, every time we have a day’s training there is a multiple choice test at the end, where you have to get 80% or higher to pass. If less than 80% – rewind – retest! Okay there are one or two write your answer and explain yourself type questions too. I used to love tests. Now I am not so sure.


  2. The Terra Nova (or ‘New Terror’) tests taken by many US students are supposed to ‘establish norms’ within grade levels and to help identify specific strengths and weaknesses within subject areas. Individuals also have their percentiles graphically displayed in resulting print-outs. As a teacher, I rarely gleaned any information from them that I didn’t already have. But they are beautifully official. And, of course, experts can interpret profound implications, based often on responses to a single question. Perhaps one day there will be a sort of CT (or TN) scanner through which students can pass, enabling instant cerebral assessment of learning. However, maybe the best purpose of these tests is to provoke creative thinking, such as your wonderful DNA response.


  3. Perhaps, had you answered the questions, instead of drawing a DNA pic, which is not random, after all, you might have gotten a better grade….!

    Tests are ok, if they seek to study what you have actually learned from something you were taught. But unless you get feedback, as to which answers were right or wrong, and why… and some help so that you can correct the gaps in your knowledge or techniques (such as the ability to solve math problems) … then they are pretty pointless from the viewpoint of the test taker.

    Example: You post these blogs. But if you never had any feedback, any reaction, any interaction, would you not feel alone in the world? The tests should be feedback to BOTH the learner and the instructor. Else, what are they? I’d say they were not of much use.

    And tests must be to a subject at hand, not to a random bunch of topics. Else, you would be better off playing Jeopardy.


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