Why conduct a test in the classroom?

Just like James Elliot has said, “School is where children go when their parents go to work, tests are equally some sort of unavoidable evil for many students.” Especially in some third-world countries such as Nigeria, the essence of tests is greatly misconstrued by students and teachers alike.

As a result, this piece will flow systematically from an attempt to correct what a test is not, to establishing what a test is, thus discussing the purpose of a test and suggesting effective ways of testing language.

To begin with, it should be mentioned that a test should not be a mere repeated exercise for the purpose of rating students at the end of a term or semester. Worse still, a test is even an opportunity for some teachers and lecturers to show the students how clever they are, how strict they are and how skillful they can be in setting tough test questions.

Contrarily, a test should serve important functions to both the teacher and the students. Essentially, a test should show students how to get better and improve their academic performance, and it should also inform teachers of how to refine their lessons to cater for students’ areas of weakness.

Many a teacher or lecturer is not aware that the failure of the students is the failure of the teacher/lecturer. A professional and passionate teacher should never take pride in the knowledge that his or her course is often failed by students.

A common anomaly, also, is how what is regarded as a continuous assessment is done in the middle of a term with a whole lot of marks assigned to it. As a continuous exercise, tests could be structured and unstructured activities ranging from questions to be answered formally or, sometimes, informally, games, planned or spontaneous group works, et cetera.

Such engagements should be registered in the psyche of students as activities geared towards improving them and not routines done to determine who fails or passes, who gets promoted or remains in a class, or who is brilliant or dull. This leads me to the discussion on the purpose of learning.

To establish the purpose of tests in academic situations, it should be reiterated that tests are for students, not teachers. Tests are primarily for the purpose of measuring learning progression and for determining the relevance of teaching materials.

Parents, too, should be part of the academic and intellectual progression of their children. For many parents, after paying the tuition fees, the next thing they are waiting for are two reports. The first report is on whether a child has passed or not, and the second is the position the child has occupied among others. It is not uncommon to hear parents say, “Does the person that came first have two heads? Your own is just to eat and play.”

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Many parents do not bother to evaluate if their children have become better persons within the last semester or term and the newly completed one. Many do not bother to ascertain whether learning has taken place or not. This is why many a child sees schooling as a duty and good grades as gifts to their parents. It is, therefore, important to state that the first purpose of a test is to measure progression in teaching and learning.

After a test, the students should find a reason to ruminate on how well they have learnt, and the teacher should be able to assess himself/herself on how well (s)he has carried out the teaching task. Tests are also for evaluative purposes. It enables the teacher to evaluate the learning period to determine what students find difficult and how such areas of difficulty can be improved on for better learning.

Students must seek the opportunity of tests to prepare better for new academic sessions by determining what areas of their studies need greater improvement. To achieve the purpose of testing, teachers/lecturers must ensure that the atmosphere of competition does not prevail in classrooms. While encouraging words and motivation must be given to those who perform and partake in class activities, the average students should not be made to look like second-class citizens.

Students must be encouraged and appreciated by individual, not collective, standards or expectations. Teachers must avoid negative labels, and students should be made to see one another as collaborators, not competitors.

Scholars have proposed that a good test must have some qualities which are validity, reliability, practicality and objectivity. In fact, tests should always be related to the topics taught in class. It is also important that test instructions are not difficult to understand.

Finally, language tests should take a communicative approach. Bello, Akinwole and Adegbite (2017) described this in their teachers’ manual as communicative language testing approach. This approach prioritises students’ ability to demonstrate a practical knowledge of a language rather than concentrating on the formal linguistic knowledge of the language.

A communicative language testing should evaluate students’ ability to communicate clearly in naturally occurring language situations in a creative and confident manner. This is necessary because, many times, even with the formal knowledge of the language, many students are unable to use the language confidently, especially in formal situations. This stresses the importance of teaching and testing the language communicatively.

In conclusion, tests serve as appraisals, not judgements. Teachers will achieve better results if they can strike a prudent balance of conducting formal and informal tests, and if they make students understand the essence of being tested beyond the ascertainment of passing or failing courses.

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