Nothing quite like a newly-sharpened No. 2 pencil, is there? Some 30 years ago, on test day, we students would each get two brand-new pencils, school-bus-yellow pencils with fat, pink, unmarred erasers. I liked the pencils’ smell — woody, clean, schoolish. I liked their feel — light, solid, sharp. More so, I liked how they made me feel – hopeful, confident, smart.
It was test day, remember? So the pencils weren’t just new pencils. They were new No. 2 pencils for meticulously filling in bubbles on Scantron© answer sheets. You’d want your lead sharp — but not so sharp it snapped — so you could fill in those test answer bubbles neatly.
And if you did not fill them in neatly … Well, it was the first time in my life I learned about “the machine” judging my work. If you did not fill in the bubbles correctly, “the machine” would count your answers wrong. Three decades later, I heard the same spiel in a college course: Fill out the boxes — rectangles, this time — correctly or else. And I should note NO yellow No. 2 pencil made me feel hopeful, confident or smart enough to ace my college anatomy tests. Those days I wished I was back in sixth grade identifying parts of a sentence.
So ... TESTS! Do you like them? Hate them? Ace them? Always bomb them? How do you feel about your children taking them? Have you read some of the controversies about standardized achievement tests? Do you find tests useful?
And do you realize — we all take tests every single day? We do. Might as well consider them.
As a nursing student, my life revolves, in many ways, around achievement tests. Each lecture class has several tests, and for many classes, those tests are the only measures for my entire class grade. (When I’m a nursing instructor, we’re having more papers, I swear.) For clinical skills, we had to be tests — or “validated,” it’s called. Then, after graduating, all would-be nurses must take and pass the BIG TEST, called the NCLEX, for a license to practice nursing. So, much of what we do in school is prepping us for that one, big, eventual test.
An “achievement” test like the NCLEX assesses what you know, what you’ve learned. Achievement tests are the ones most common in academics. You learn something — likely by lecture or reading — then you take a test to see if you learned the content.
Or, at least, if you can regurgitate the content.
That’s one complaint some people have about using achievement tests to measure academic success. Ever taken a test, or know someone who has, then promptly forgotten nearly everything once you got your good grade? I’d like to tell you I’ve never done that. Alas, I have.
Other tests assess not so much achievement but just your “status” for any given issue. Think of an eye exam, the test where you read the letters on the wall. There’s no “achievement” to it; instead, it’s simply an assessment of how great or poor your eyes are. I like tests like that — ones for which there’s no right or wrong answers. For my eye tests and urinalysis drug tests, I often joke, “Now, those are tests I’m sure to ace.”