IT trainers need to ask themselves a number of questions before they greet their students on the first day of class. One of those questions concerns whether the class should be tested before the class begins to determine their knowledge base, or after the course ends to determine how successful you were as a trainer, based on how much the students learned. There’s also the option of testing before and after the course.

The timing of the testing is at least as important as the test itself.

Do an assessment first
There are basically two schools of thought on the subject of testing. The first is to evaluate the students before you actually begin teaching. If you give a test when class starts and you take time to evaluate the results, you can adjust the course to meet the needs of your students.

Now, pretesting assumes a lot of things. It assumes that you know enough about your subject to be able to deviate from your lesson plan. You have two choices if the entire class already knows most of what you are planning to teach: You can either bore them to tears or adapt.

This brings us to the second assumption. Your teaching skills must be good enough to allow you to change your lesson plans on the fly. If you are the type of trainer who teaches the same topic the same way, every time you teach it, don’t pretest. Also, if you do not have the freedom to change the lesson plan, don’t pretest. In both cases, pretesting would be a waste of time for you and your students.

If, however, you are able to change and adapt your class, then give students the most for their time with you by pretesting. That way, you can teach them something they don’t already know.

Wait until it’s all over
The second school of thought on testing is to test at the end of class. The benefit of testing after the course has been completed is that you should be able to determine not only whether or not your students “got it,” but also whether or not you “taught it.”

The disadvantage of testing at the end of class is that you won’t have a lot of time, if any, to correct your mistakes. You may not be able to do anything for the dear, departing students, but it can help you prepare for future groups.

And then there’s my way
Actually, there is a third school of thought. Do both by testing at the beginning and at the end of your class. That way you have a measurement baseline for learning, and you can then determine whether or not you achieved or surpassed that baseline data.

When you give a test at the beginning, you are able to determine the needs of the class and make the appropriate changes. Then when you follow up at the end with either the same test or an adaptation of that test, you can see if the changes you made helped or hindered.

If you spent a little more time with one of the slower students, did he or she catch up? If you gave a little bit extra to the class because they seemed to know almost all that you were going to teach, did it work out all right? Did you keep their attention and allow them to learn at the same time? These are questions that are best answered if you can look at the before and after pictures of testing.

What do I do with all this information?
The next aspect of testing you have to consider is what you are going to do with the tests. I’m not talking about the physical pieces of paper. I’m talking about the results.

You have to decide to use those tests to improve yourself and your class, or you shouldn’t waste class time testing. You have to commit yourself to analyzing the tests and pulling the gems of information from them. Test results should not be used as a big stick to punish your students, but as a measuring stick for class progress and understanding. Some students, and some trainers, need more help.

No matter how great a teacher you are—and there are many of them out there—there is always room for improvement. Even a little tweak here and there can mean the difference between a great teacher and a magnificent one.

Magnificence! What a concept!
Have you ever altered a class because of student performance on a test? What have you changed? What improvements have you made? Send us an e-mail with your ideas.