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Putting Tests to the Test

C.B. Gavant

June is a month of frenzied cramming sessions and late nights, as high-school students prepare for their finals. Do these exams actually encourage real learning — or do they just teach kids how to memorize information long enough to get an A?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In eleventh grade, my most challenging limudei kodesh class was Navi. Mrs. Brand,* our teacher, was known for her killer tests. She expected us to learn the topics we covered in Sefer Yeshayah inside and out.

Even though I was a good student, those exams — not to mention the pop quizzes that preceded them — instilled fear in my heart like nothing else. I spent hours going over the material we learned in class, reviewing psukim and mefarshim every night, and on Shabbos, too. I studied for those tests — really studied — in a way that I didn’t for classes that I knew I could ace easily.

That was the only time I learned Sefer Yeshayah, and years have passed since I sat in Mrs. Brand’s class — yet to this day, I can still recall the perakim we covered.

June brings back memories of Mrs. Brand’s infamous tests, along with the other anxiety-inducing final exams for which I had to study. This dreaded season brings on nightmares for many students today (that is, for those who actually manage to get some sleep). If you’ve ever witnessed the soaring stress levels and the frantic study sessions, you might have wondered: Are exams helping — or hindering — real learning?

Many parents and teachers have asked that very same question. Indeed, the “to test or not to test” issue has become a heated debate among educators. Should we, as some advocate, throw out tests altogether? If so, how can we gauge whether kids are successfully learning or not? And if we do continue to test kids, how can we eliminate the problems?


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