Tests are inhuman – and that is what so good about them

The Wing to Heaven

One of the frequent complaints about tests is that they are a bit dehumanising. Every pupil is herded into an exam hall, there to answer exactly the same questions. The questions they answer are often rather artificial ones, stripped from real-world contexts and on occasions placed in formats, such as multiple choice, that they will be unlikely to encounter outside of an exam hall. If they feel ill, or if they had an argument with their parents the night before, then no special allowances can be made.

In contrast with this, assessment based on teacher judgment seems not just nicer, but much fairer. Exams offer a highly artificial snapshot of a pupil’s grasp of atomised knowledge at just one moment in time. Teachers have knowledge of a pupil that spans months, maybe years, and takes into account the pupils’ performance on a range of different tasks and topics. Teacher assessment…

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