Why Testing is Detrimental to Thinking

We all know that just because you’ve passed a test you haven’t really learned anything (when I passed the test to get my motorcycle permit, I had never even ridden a motorcycle!) but did you know that testing processes can actually INHIBIT your thinking and learning ability? Read on to learn more…

Do you remember the Scantron bubble sheet from your school days?

It’s the familiar number-two-pencil, fill in the circle which corresponds to the answer you have chosen, test. The filled-in card is then run through a computer which compares your bubbles to the correct answers and scored your test in mere seconds. When it was first introduced in the 1930’s the Scantron bubble sheet was extremely helpful to teachers and administrators as class sizes grew and record keeping became more stringent.

Unfortunately this technological wonder has been quite detrimental to developing the ability to think, for two reasons:

1  Lack of teacher involvement in grading.

Prior to a machine grading tests, teachers had to read each response, giving the answer critical thought. Very often they would add commentary to the grade, rather than simply marking an answer wrong. They might remind the student where the correct information was found or help them to remember how the concept they got wrong was similar to what they were thinking. Sometimes they would give partial credit if the student was on the right track but then veered off before their final summation (this is the only way I passed geometry, believe me). Prior to a machine grading tests, even when a student got an answer wrong – they were learning.

They had coaching, correction and refinement from their teacher based on how the teacher graded the test. Once the Scantron bubble sheet became de rigueur in public school education, students simply received a grade; rarely did you get the bubble sheet back. And let’s be honest, there is no youngster motivated enough to follow through on a wrong answer and figure out why they got it wrong.

2  Everything became a multiple choice test.

The only way for the bubble sheet to work is if every question has only one right answer. Not only did this focus make learning seem easy (just look for the right answer) but it eliminated an individual’s need to put any critical thought in to the answer. Essays went by the wayside.

“Explain your answer,” was no longer the final instruction of a test question. Once the “outcome” only had to be one right answer it was much easier to look for an answer you could recognize than to pull one up from memory or reason it through. More complex questions, such as “Using your knowledge of bees and migration, how would you explain the Hyalaeus bee species on the island of Hawaii?” became impossible.

You can learn more about the demise of thinking skills – and more importantly how to solve it – here.