CXO

Use tests to bring out the best in your students—and yourself

Students don't like taking them and maybe you don't like scoring them, but tests are good for everyone involved. Read on to see how you can use test results to improve your teaching skills.


Remember when you struggled through a class and just about the time you saw the light at the end of the tunnel, the instructor stood before you with a stack of papers and announced that you positively, absolutely would not pass the class until you passed that test. You began to sweat; your hands got clammy. Any knowledge you may have had instantly fled screaming from your head. All of this was in reaction to the single word—“test.”

The reaction doesn't change with time, age, experience, or knowledge. No one likes to take tests. As an instructor, you must be aware of this fear, and, because of that knowledge, you may be tempted to skip the test portion of a class. After all, your class doesn't mean the difference between life and death for your students. It might not even be a "real" class. It might simply be specific instruction designed to meet the needs of your institution. Why subject your students to the torture?

Well, let me tell you. There are several important reasons to test your students.

#1: A measure of achievement
First, your students need to know that they have met the goals of the class. Whether it's training in Word or an institutional orientation, there are objectives to be met. A student needs to know if he or she has met those objectives. Passing a final test gives a wonderful sense of accomplishment even for what might be seen as a small and seemingly unimportant achievement. It can also give a student the confidence required to proceed to a new, different, or more difficult class. You have answered the question for your students, "Did I really get it?"

#2: A measure of the class design
Secondly, a test should cover all or most of the material covered in class. It should also cover the key items that need to be mastered by the students. As an instructor you have to make sure you are teaching your pupils what they need to know. I am not suggesting teaching the test. I'm talking about making sure that the test actually reflects what the class is about.

#3: A measure of your teaching ability
Thirdly, you, as the instructor, need to know if you got through to your students. You may have been told that you teach a wonderful class, or that you are a great instructor, but these comments may reflect only how entertaining you are. If you haven't conveyed the information in a way that can be documented, you may not be doing your job.

The results of a test show not only a student's ability, but yours as well. If all or even several of your students fail the test, then you have failed as a teacher. By paying attention to the test results, you may be able to answer the question, "Did I really do a good job?" It is a hard question to answer otherwise.

#4: A measure of potential improvements
Fourth, reviewing student test scores can identify the areas where you need to do better. If a test is written to reflect what was taught or what was supposed to be taught, then you can see where you may have blown it. For example, if a percentage of the class misses the same question or questions, then you may need to re-evaluate how you teach that part of the class.

Evaluate yourself as well as the students
Finally, if you present the test as an evaluation of you as the teacher as well as an assessment of the students' abilities, you may be able to alleviate some of their test anxiety. After telling them how you’ll use the test, don't be a hypocrite. When grading the test, actually use it as a litmus test of your abilities. Be prepared, though, because you may not pass. You may need to make changes to your teaching style and methods. Keep an open mind and learn from your test results.
How do you use tests in your training programs? How often do you give them and what do the results tell you? Send us a note with your ideas and suggestions about evaluations.

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