The Purpose of Testing

School exams assess knowledge gains and gaps

Why do teachers give quizzes? Why do school districts and states create high-stakes tests for students? The answer seems obvious: to see what they have learned. However, this tells only part of the story. Tests serve many purposes in schools beyond just being the basis for a grade. Testing can measure successful memorization of facts or the effective application of critical thinking skills. Although test-taking can trigger performance anxiety in some students, the desire to do well can also help keep students motivated. Here are some of the primary reasons students take tests:

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To Assess What Students Have Learned

The obvious point of classroom testing is to assess what students have learned after the completion of a lesson or unit. When the classroom tests are tied to ​effectively written lesson objectives, a teacher can analyze the results to see where the majority of students did well or need more work. These tests are also important when discussing student progress at parent-teacher conferences.

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To Identify Student Strengths and Weaknesses

Another use of tests is to determine student strengths and weaknesses. One effective example of this is when teachers use pretests at the beginning of units in order to find out what students already know and figure out where to focus the lesson. Further, learning style and multiple intelligences tests help teachers learn how to best meet the needs of their students through instructional techniques.

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To Determine Recipients of Awards and Recognition

Tests can be used as a way to determine who will receive awards and recognition. For example, the PSAT is often given in the 10th grade to students across the nation. When students become National Merit Scholars due to their results ​on this test, they are offered scholarships and other forms of recognition.

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To Gain College Credit

Advanced Placement exams provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit after successfully completing a course and passing the exam with high marks. While every university has its own rules on what scores to accept, most do give credit for these exams. In many cases, students are able to begin college with a semester or even a year's worth of credits under their belts.

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To Provide a Way to Measure a Teacher and/or School's Effectiveness

More and mores states are tying school funding to student performance on standardized tests. Some states use these results when they evaluate and give merit raises to the teachers themselves. This use of high-stakes testing can be contentious with educators since many factors influence a student's grade on an exam. Additionally, controversy can sometimes erupt over the number of hours schools use to specifically "teach to the test" as they prepare students to take these exams.

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To Judge Student Merit for an Internship, Program or College

Tests have traditionally been used as a way to judge a student based on merit. The SAT and ACT are two common tests that form part of a student's entrance application to colleges. Additionally, students might be required to take additional exams to get into special programs or be placed properly in classes. For example, a student who has taken a few years of high school French might be required to pass an exam in order to be placed in the correct year of French instruction.