Thursday, January 31, 2013


One of the things that kids hate most about school is tests.  This is possibly (aside from social issues) what causes the most stress.  (Or grades, and grades are determined by test scores).

Recently, I watched a 10 year old girl before a Navi test.  The test was on 4 perakim.  She was responsible for pshat inside, as well as certain bekius questions.

Reading through the material once took about an hour.  Reviewing it enough times so that she would be able to answer those questions from memory would be another couple of hours.  There were tears and late night arguments.

What does studying like this achieve? 

There is a debate amongst educators as to whether there is not much point to putting mental energy into memorizing facts that can be easily looked up (Seth Godin, Stop Stealing Dreams, Chapter 69, for example), or whether having facts at our fingertips is a vital component of knowledge and wisdom.  However you stand on this argument (and I tend towards the former, being a googlholic myself as well as a former knowledge-gobbler), we still must ask the question: Does studying for tests in this manner actually lead to the desired outcome of having more information/knowledge?

I remember reading about some studies that although students cram a tremendous amount of information into their short term memory, within 24 hours after the test, they have "dumped" it, and they no longer remember most of it.  

I mentioned to Sarah that personally, I feel that I retained a fairly large percentage of material that I studied for, and she said, "Mommy, that's because you learn by reading.  I'm an auditory learner and I don't remember most of what I study."  I believe that I also had a vested interest in appearing smart and in knowing things, so I had emotional energy driving me to remember facts.  I remember when I went to Israel for the year, there were no tests.  I had a moment of concern, wondering if I would remember what I learned, with no incentive to review and no time spent going over it until I "knew it."  But I was relieved that there would be learning without the pressure of testing.

The popular TV show "Are you smarter than a 5th grader" emphasized just how few of our adult society members actually remember the facts from the 5th grade curriculum.

So we have children spending hours doing a painful activity that does not have long term benefits.  It causes stress and prevents them from playing (an activity that has been shown to have health, emotional, social and cognitive benefits).

In truth, people remember what interests them and what is useful to them.

If the goal is testing to help inculcate the material into the long term memory of the student, it is not achieving its goal and should be stopped.

If the goal is to determine if the student knows the material, the pain, stress, and lack of accuracy ought to prompt us to look for other ways of evaluating knowledge.

1 comment:

  1. I never give my kids tests. We discuss material, we act it out with toys, we draw pictures, we read more. We prepare maps. Anything remembered is a bonus. (But since my six-year-old knew that Mesopotamia was between the Tigris and the Euphrates, I guess it works.)