Doug Edwards

This conversation is closed.

How well do you think test/exam scores predict a person's future success with a particular subject?

Test and exams seem (I'm using the word "seem" very intentionally) to be a way to measure what someone learned in the past (after having taken a course for example).
But can tests really predict what's important? That is, future successful action!

Closing Statement from Doug Edwards

Thanks everyone for your contribution to this question. If I had to summarize: you think that tests alone (some intelligence tests excluded) are not enough to make a prediction, but are mainly useful to see a student's progress (or lack of it). Your thoughtful answers were very helpful to me.

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    Mar 2 2014: well!! from all the tests we write and the exams we take. they just make us educated and eligible for the jobs and not make us smart. education may give us the job . its only smartness and the WILL that make us successfull !! there shouldnt be exams.. there should be js teaching .. teaching to make us know the meanings of life ans realise the originality of life!!
  • Mar 1 2014: No,for theoretical test.
    Yes,for practical test.
    And sometimes the test/exam cannot predict the successful action,because successful action needs much more than technical skills.Non-technical skills also play a significant role in future successful action.

    A person can take theoretical music lessons and may pass the tests/exams with distinction.But,when asked to compose a music may not be able to do so.

    A person can take theoretical lessons on car driving and may pass the tests/exam with distinction. But, this may not predict that he/she will be able to successfully drive the car without making an accident.

    Future successful actions need this :


    And the life takes its own examination and tests to test all the above mentioned qualities, and one who passes the test of life succeeds.
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      Mar 2 2014: I enjoyed your "equation." Thanks!
  • Feb 28 2014: I think it depends greatly on the test.

    A natural intelligence or aptitude test, I think is a highly accurate determination of future ability.

    A specific skills test, or knowledge of a specific subject that will actually be used in a particular field of employment is also likely to be highly indicative. That is, a test on C programming for someone that intends to be a C programmer, or knowledge of plumbing code for someone that will be a plumber, or a test of cutting hair for a barber...

    But, much of what we teach in schools is, at best, secondary to job skills. A history test for the C programmer, a physical science test for the plumber, a geometry test for the barber... Meh. Probably very little correlation to actual job performance.
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    Mar 9 2014: I think that tests have gotten a bit too big for their britches, if you take my meaning. They're a good efficient way to see what students have learned, but it kind of ruins the purpose when you base the curriculum around the test, rather than the other way around. I think the best way to deal with the problem is to have regional and state conferences where the teachers themselves come up with a mass curriculum to base the tests around, and at the same time individualize actual teaching. When I was diagnosed with Aspergers, I know I got the full treatment. People would come in, make sure the subject made sense, making sure that I could understand what was going on in the classroom. As for the actual question being asked, nothing can really predict how successful someone will be in a subject, only time can tell, so we should stop treating tests like the be-all end-all of education.
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    Mar 7 2014: Wow, so Einstein flunking is a myth! Good to know. Following curiosity would certainly be more fun than taking a test. Thanks Laura for the excellent contribution here!
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    Mar 7 2014: What an interesting question! I will have to say that the myth of Einstein flunking math tests has been proven to be just that, a myth. In an interview concerning the "legend" that began being perpetuated when he was still alive, he tersely rejected the notion.
    On the other hand, here is an excerpt from one that I found in critical
    "Most people think that genius is the primary determinant of intellectual achievement. Yet 3 of the all-time greatest thinkers had in common, not genius, but a questioning mind. Their intellectual skills & inquisitive drive was the essence of critical thinking. Through skilled & persistent questioning they redesigned our view of the physical world & the universe.
    Consider Newton. Uninterested in the set curriculum at Cambridge, Newton at 19 drew up a list of questions under 45 heads. His title: “Quaestiones,” signaled his goal: constantly to question the nature of matter, place, time, and motion.
    His style was to slog his way to knowledge. For example, he “bought Descartes’s Geometry and read it by himself. When he got over 2 or 3 pages he could understand no farther, then he began again and advanced farther and continued so doing till he made himself master of the whole . . . ”
    When asked how he had discovered the law of universal gravitation, he said: “ By thinking on it continually. “ This pattern of consistent, relentless questioning, led to depth of understanding & reconstruction of previous theories about the universe.
    Darwin’s experience & approach to learning were similar to Newton’s. First, he found traditional instruction discouraging. “During my 2nd year at Edinburgh I attended lectures on Geology & Zoology, but they were incredibly dull. The sole effect they produced was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology, or in any way to study the sciences.”

    So, maybe curiosity trumps test scores? :)
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      Mar 9 2014: I like your answer, Laura. Thank you for taking the time to share your interesting and enlightening contributions.

      How could you then motivate or inspire students, or anyone for that matter, to develop "this pattern of consistent, relentless questioning", so that they will "develop depth of understanding" just like the scientists and thinkers you mentioned?
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      Mar 4 2014: Yes Moe, I imagine too that when schools give out grades, they also give out judgements about a person's worth since so much value is given to the grade. If a student is not aware, they could buy into this judgement about themselves that they are "dumber" or "smarter" than others - because the grade said so. Thank you.
  • Mar 1 2014: I think tests might be an indicator for aptitude, level of current understanding, or ability to remember something recently read or heard.

    I think perhaps overall academic performance might be an indicator of work ethic.

    A lot depends on the test, the subject, the circumstances,and the relationship between the test material and what is applicable to the job.
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      Mar 2 2014: Thanks Robert. Yeah, it does seem reasonable that overall academic performance might be an indicator of work ethic. I wonder how we could well one predicts the other - You've given me something to read up on.
  • Mar 14 2014: Sadly, in order to succeed in the world, you're going to have to be able to do well on tests. There's no foolproof way to check someone's aptitude on any particular subject, but I think tests are quite good at this. The best teachers I've had don't give tests in the traditional sense. For instance, my music teacher has me learn theory, but he also has me play the piece. If I can do both, the endeavor is judged successful. All of my rambling has a point. If you do well on tests, you will have a better opportunity to excel in the important stuff. However, I also think that if we change the definition of test or exam (test knowledge as well as ability), those who do well on tests will have a deadlock on success.
  • Mar 12 2014: Yes, it predicts a person's future because with this you can measure how serious one is about his future. it shows somebody's interest and worry about his career.
    • Mar 13 2014: I think it also depends on what a person goals for their future actually are. For example a person whose goal it is to be a painter will perhaps not be so worried about studying for a math test. Whereas a painter who considers that they may need to know some math in order to sell their paintings may take more interest in the math test. Yet each of these two people could be equally serious about their future career, they are just considering it from different perspectives.
      In fact, what if our painter accepts that he has no acumen in math and hires someone with this skill instead; this combination may perform better than the mathematic painter who tries to do both jobs.
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    Mar 12 2014: Interesting point "failure is great." I agree that failure can be valuable feedback. Thanks Ben.
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    Gord G

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    Mar 12 2014: About as well as the format predicts the trajectory of future thought.
  • Mar 12 2014: it depends on how the test is set up. if it is just testing absorption of knowledge then it can't predict a person's future success well at all, but if it is skill-based, meaning it tests a student's competency of the subject material, evaluating how well they've developed an ability to analyse and solve problems characteristic of the subject, then yes. a well written test is a test of how well students can apply on their what they've learned in class, and well constructed classes enable students to take future successful action, in the test and then beyond. unfortunately these days administrators (who are not teachers and usually never have been) often assign more knowledge-based tests because they're easier to quantify.

    that said though i think these days too much stock is put in avoiding failure. failure is great, it helps us learn what we are not particularly good at, and can save us years of wasted effort in pursuit of something that will always be easier for others. knowing what you're not good at is important in narrowing the search for what it is that you will be very good at.
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    Mar 12 2014: Thanks Salim. It is astounding to find so many people are not working in the discipline they studied in school.
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    Mar 12 2014: I really like your idea about about keeping the grades private - and only using them to help students. Would be nice if we can't tap into the motivation kids have for learning video games for their school studies! Might not need so many tests then.
    Thanks Bhushan.
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    Mar 11 2014: Thank you Blanche for your contribution.
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    Mar 11 2014: In my country at least test / exam scores are just a predictor of how efficiently one could swallow a subject during her/his class or preparatory stage for exam then later how efficiently one could vomit during the moment of truth of exam time. So it seems to me a certification process of that nothing more nothing less.

    As many people choose / are bound to choose to be in a profession or area which has a very minimum link with what s/he learned once in class room success depends mostly on something else other than that what s/he scored once in exam. Even if someone remains within her/his subject area even then also score will not help for two reasons which are

    First any subject is not static so after having high score if one stops learning s/he may become obsolete
    Secondly even if s/he is updated but don't apply what has learned from practical point view then again it will not work.
    Last not least interpersonal skill , communication skill , own passion etc seems are more important to be successful.
  • Mar 10 2014: This is a interesting topic, its sorta a catch 22. Lots of times test are used to determines a persons future, like applying and being accepted into Major College Universities. Most colleges require a certain score on the SAT for applicants to be accepted into their University, being accepted into these Universities could greatly impact the success of a persons future by providing them with the right network of individuals that they go through school with. Not to say the person who doesn't get accepted doesn't have a good chance of being successful, its just a little easier for those who do.
  • Mar 9 2014: Tests are important. I cant imagine students being motivated enough without them.
    Grading them too is important. We want to know if our students are capable enough. If we dont grade them, how are we to know if there's some problem with the teaching? Also, we can pick out the introverts who need help but dont really participate in class.
    However, I dont think that anyone but the teacher shold know the ggrades. That would remove all the unhealthy pressure and competition off these tests. Students who do underperform should be given extra care and help though.
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    Mar 9 2014: Interesting Lejan - when I taught mathematics and statistics, I observed very little desire for people to understand the material - emphasis was on being able to do it, without much understanding. I noticed this as a student as well.
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    Mar 9 2014: Thank you Adrian. I wonder how different curriculum would be if the teachers themselves designed the curriculum? Interesting statement!
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    Mar 9 2014: Thank you Blanche. I appreciate the link - very good reading. Next: was this your answer to my question? Or do you have something personally to contribute in addition to the study? If so, I'd love to hear from you again.
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    Mar 9 2014: On this I don't even think, I know, that exam scores does not have any predictive value at all! Any given positives are purely coincidental!

    Take me for example. One of my two best exam results at the university was a straight A in electrical engineering class, in which I didn't have any clue what I was doing at all. I simply choose and used the right formulas by chance and just calculated correctly what was asked for within the test.

    Up to today electricity is one of the unsolved mysteries in this, in my, universe ...

    Certainly I manage to install plugs and to wire some home electricity successfully, but do not ask me why it works and how ... :o)
  • Mar 9 2014: Simply, they cannot. School is often a measure of intelligence. The problem is that these tests the students are taking are not measuring how much they know, but how well they can memorize information. As a high school student myself, I see first hand that students are not even earning these grades. Kids are getting better at cheating on everything from essays to exams. Their grades are not showing how smart they are,they are showing how well they can cheat.
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      Mar 9 2014: It is truly important to realize that the culture of your high school is not the culture of every high school, but also that you might be able to influence the culture of your high school if students get together to do something about this, which would also have the support of the adults in the building.

      One thing that reenforces a culture of dishonesty or corruption in an organization is precisely the belief that "everyone is doing it."

      It is similar to the way some schools have seriously problems with bullying and others build a culture that doesn't tolerate it.
  • Mar 8 2014: I don't think tests/exams are an accurate indicator of ability or a predictor of future success. If you do well in an exam that is great. It shows a level of understanding and sure the individual may do well. Then there is the individual who bombs out and may be so put off by the experience that does nothing and such a low score may predict he will not do well. Then there is a group of people who don't do well. Maybe bomb out but are challenged further by this and in fact do really well in that field when working in it, For example, you bomb out in real estate law yet in training you have to do it. These individuals do well, are more likely to be thorough and precise about it and so make better real estate lawyers. I think future success can not be measured by tests/exams.
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    Mar 8 2014: Test and Exams can't judge your excellence. They can only judge your ability to handle the pressure developed. If I am not wrong, handling situation is also an excellence but if going deep into something take out the best of us.
  • Mar 8 2014: I think it does , if its geared towards being able to use this knowledge practically.....but i wouldnt support those without any practical relevance and neither would i support teaching and teaching without tests! then can we assess to see how good the concepts thought ve been assimilated?.. on predicting what happens in the future, now that's quite different...when it comes to humans the future is almost always uncertain...there are alot of influences that also play a role: like determination, perseverance, hard work, dedication and others( with some even making sense of what they learnt yrs after they ve taken their exams)
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    Mar 7 2014: I suppose that memorizing a lot of facts could mean that you could use those facts to synthesize action of value in the future, but the opposite could be true. Perhaps tests like these could only test a person's memory, rather than ability to use the knowledge.
    Thanks Maria!
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    Mar 7 2014: I've heard about the high school grades being better indicators. Not surprised about the parent's income. Thanks Wayne!
  • Mar 7 2014: Although tests can show to some extent how easily someone has learned facts and figures, as a current student, I don't feel that thoughts and ideas can be measured in any way, shape or form. College requires you to be able to consider and analyze a wide variety of concepts, and tests like the ACT only quiz you on things you have memorized over the years of education; they don't test you on your potential capabilities. The SAT included some questions that asked for thoughtful and well-developed answers in the writing (essay) portion of the tests, but unfortunately the essay is being made optional so the student's whose strengths lie in remembering little details are favored over those who see the big picture, and things that "really matter" like you mentioned. How can you measure someone's future success within a five page booklet? :(
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    Mar 7 2014: Thanks Alessandra. How might you apply your idea of "real life situation" when learning math division? For example learning to divide even numbers by odd numbers?
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    Mar 7 2014: Interesting points - especially your idea about testing on "real life situations rather than theoetical questions..."
  • Mar 6 2014: I do not think that tests and exams offer a clear vision of successful a person is going to be in the future. Tests are vehicles that allow institutions to look at the amount of information that students are able to receive and reiterate in different forms. I think that we have to take the idea of tests as a theoretical and "memorization" out of the equation and focus on making tests more applicable to the real world. They need to be framed in a different context and I think that they should focus on students applying the information that they've learned to real life situations rather than theoretical questions that many times are designed to trick the student. A lot of the times, students ask the question "when am I going to need this in real life?" Tests should be focused on answering this question and demonstrating these type of real life situations to students and testing their ability to deal with them.
  • Mar 6 2014: Predict it? They determine it. Low early test scores discourage further attempts.
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    Mar 4 2014: Seriously Doug, I asked my Grandfather in 1969 if he took Geometry and Algebra in 1903 and if he had used them since. He said practically not other than a short stint as a surveyor. I have asked hundreds since and approximately 1% say they have. Mostly teachers a couple engineers and a lady who told me that every time she makes Pizza she uses Pi (to divide it exactly. The only justification I have extracted from the establishment is the myth that exposure to these disciplines increase abstract reasoning ability and logic skills even though there is no conscious retention of the theorems or equations. This is refuted at most elections which seem to be decided by only a few percentage points, not by a general consensus wrought by logic. ( I do not say higher mathematics are useless, they are a necessity for 1% of our society. Why not teach thinking skill using a medium that at least a majority are likely to need in their day to day.
  • Mar 4 2014: There was a study that found grades were a better predictor than sat scores of college success. I also know several schools that test the entering students (and these are very good schools with students top schools fight for) to make sure what they know. It is because there is a wide variance of knowledge taught by our k-12 system.
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    Mar 4 2014: Theoretical tests can show capacity for memorization or for certain kinds of abstract reasoning, so if you are going to be a theorist or an instructor on theory then they could be predictive of future success in those narrow fields. In general testing is not teaching unless you can make a living taking tests. Since surveys have indicated that high school graduates retain only 20% of what they "learned" well enough to regurgitate for the grading system just one year after graduation it seems mostly pointless to me.
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      Mar 4 2014: You remind me of Father Guido Sarducci's idea for the 5 minute university. They take the amount of knowledge that a college graduate remembers after five years (about 5 minutes worth), then teach them only that. Thanks Chad!
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    Mar 3 2014: Aside from being "Big Business", what are the purposes of mandated tests like SAT and ACT then?
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      Mar 7 2014: That's an interesting question. We're not sure how much benefit the SAT/ACT tests have, but we certainly know they benefit the SAT/ACT people!
      • Mar 7 2014: A recent study indicated that high school grades were a better predictor of college success than the sat/act scores. Of course the best was great grades and a high sat/act score.

        There is a recent study that indicates - the higher the income of the parents, the higher the sat score. The more education the parents have, the higher the sat score. Asian Americans had the highest average sat scores.
  • Jude A

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    Mar 3 2014: Hi Doug !
    You have asked a seemingly simple question, but one with no simple answer. Let me try and 'dump' my thoughts
    1) There may be several anecdotal evidences suggesting that the opposite is true. Eg. high school or college dropouts becoming extremely successful, Einsteins failing physics exams etc. These are exceptions and they mean a couple of things A) the motivation for success in an exam and the motivation to achieve the true element (yes, Ken Robinson !) are not always positively correlated, B) exceptions are survivors biases - we don't often get to hear (or register in our brains) a lot about the millions of high school dropouts, who did not become superheros.
    2) The basic character traits for a candidate to perform well in an exam and to become successful can be correlated. For example, one's ability to apply mathematics, hard work, systematic preparation for exams can equally help in achieving success in a future, say engineering, job. Here, a common cause is leading to two outcomes (success in exams and success in career). While it is almost impossible to distinguish what is causing what, it definitely shows up as a positive correlation between exam result and success.
    3) lack of alternative for mass recruitment: I imagine that the recruitment think-tanks must be thinking of various alternatives for the traditional tests/exams. Such alternatives (interviews, discussions, internships, tasks) may as well work, but when the vacancies are limited. But, when the requirements/qualifications/promotions involve thousands of candidates, carrying out an exam becomes the (only) viable compromise.
    4) Exams give only the entry points. It is, I would say, the duty of the individual to expand herself beyond the topic of entry into much broader, deeper, diverse and meaningful career paths/topics

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      Mar 4 2014: Certainly tests help evaluate a lot of candidates in an efficient manner. I heard that the multiple choice test was either invented or came into wide use in WWI when the military had to place a huge number of people either in the infantry or in officer positions. Without the tests, they would have had to guess.
      Makes one wonder, how much different the outcome would have been if they had simply guessed?
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    Mar 3 2014: Hi Doug,
    I do not think test/exam scores "predict" anything. I wholeheartedly agree with you that tests and exams are a way to measure what a person may have learned about a certain subject. It is up to the individual, to use that information in a productive way (or not), to determine the possibilities for success (or not). I think any future successful actions need to originate in the individual, and there are usually many factors which contribute to success.
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      Mar 4 2014: Thanks Coleen. You're not alone in this one.
  • Mar 3 2014: I believe that a test or exam can't predict a person future or their future success. Standardised testing should not be used within the education system as by its design it makes everyone the same and judges us on being the same, when by nature humans are individually different and that is what makes us interesting and which fosters our creativity, which has allowed us to become the most dominate species on earth.

    If you judge something that is incredibly dynamic such as human nature, by very restrictive and defined standards you will never be able to accurately predict what will happen in the future to the thing that you are testing.

    Don't get me wrong standardised testing has it uses, like if u went to the doctor to get your blood pressure checked you want to know if your blood pressure is low or in the average range or high, we just shouldn't use standardised testing in education.
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    Mar 3 2014: while i have no doubt that testing and exam scores were designed to establish whether a person has reached the required minimum achievement, they have long since become the anchor that is holding education back.

    as doctors are sometimes said to treat the disease instead of the patient, so exams and tests have taken the focus off the student and onto the assessment system.

    as a result, we measure students against the system rather than devise a system that encourages and helps achieve success.

    a lot of people will not agree with that. they tend to be of the mindset that for some to be successful, we must have those who are unsuccessful and to have everyone succeeding is some kind of soft, new-age approach to education that waters the whole system down.

    generally, tests and exams are extremely limited to assessing only the course content - content that is not static and also not comprehensive.

    i remember being in the 5th form and sweating about the "big year" where assessment suddenly affected your next few years of schooling. the funny thing was that in 6th form, no one cared about 5th form exam results. the same was for 7th form (final year at secondary school) - no one cared about 6th form results. at university, no one cared about your high school results and once in the workforce, no one cares about your university scores.

    i do not think they are indicative of very much at all if you are considering the years ahead.
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      Mar 3 2014: Very interesting point you made using the doctors treating the disease instead of the patient. Thank you for your response.
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        Mar 3 2014: i'm speaking largely about primary school (ages 5-12). i'm a sometimes-teacher and assessment is in need of a major overhaul at primary school level (and probably secondary).
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    Mar 2 2014: Does an excellent test score guarantee success in a particular subject. No, but a well designed test can be a reliable predictor of aptitude. Most successes in life, though, are a result of good attitude, not aptitude.
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      Mar 3 2014: Yes, you hear a lot about aptitude tests, but not much (if any) about attitude tests.
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    Mar 2 2014: A test is:

    a set of questions, problems, or the like, used as a means of evaluating the abilities, aptitudes, skills, or performance of an individual or group; examination.

    Psychology . a set of standardized questions, problems, or tasks designed to elicit responses for use in measuring the traits, capacities, or achievements of an individual.

    Assessment has three divisions: 1) Initial: Where you are; 2) Formative: Usually diagnostic or standardized; and 3) Summative: Usually7 used to assign a grade.

    The difference between formative and summary is slim but has been explained as "When the cook tastes the soup, that's formative. When the guests taste the soup, that's summative."

    I go to the trouble of defining all of the above for the purpose of stating that there must be a defined reason for the test and desired measurable outcomes.

    I think there is a difference between a SAT, skill assessment, and a placement test. They are given for differing purposes. One size (test) does not fit all. If one test did it all then the funny little cards that all look like ink spills would have no purpose OR be the only test in town.

    So maybe the question should be limited to career, skill, or placement tests and their success rates? In the academic arena perhaps the educational assessments are indicators.

    I am in way over my head ... and my only support is common sense and down home thinkin.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Mar 3 2014: Loved the cook analogy. And yes, although I should have focused the question better, I've enjoyed and found a lot of value from what you and the others have offered up here!
  • Mar 2 2014: Firstly, I want to say, I hate Test. Due to test, I didn't have a happy childhood. I need to participate plenty of classes to imporve my test score. But now, I think test is necessary and useful sometimes. It can distinguish people between the hard-working and the lazy. No pains no gains. Test can encourage people to put heart to do something. Just like the money, people prefer to choose high-paid job, and will work hard to make more money.

    If the process of test is fair, and the test is comprehensive and long-term(not just one or two tests). I think it can predict the future success generally.

    I think I will be successful in the future!
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      Mar 3 2014: I wish you well and thank you for your contribution. You seem very fair to testing for someone who had a difficult time with them in childhood.
  • Mar 2 2014: I think exam scores and the academic achievement are totally two different things. The first one is test how much knowledge you have acquired instead of your creativity. Creativity is impossible to test using scores. Einstein always did bad in exams when he was young, but finally he became an great scientist in the future. He insisted the most important thing is your interests and imagination. You can master what you have known does not equal to you can discover what you haven't known!
    scores are just an important thing which test what you have learned. Your imagination will depend on what you will create! Especially for scientists, nobody will pay attention to their scores they have got in the sat when they are doing research. They are interested in the unknown things using their knowledge and imagination.
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      Mar 3 2014: If Einstein was a "bad" test taker, then I shouldn't feel so bad. Thank you for your input!
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    Mar 2 2014: Hey Edwards
    Your question is so useful and valuable.
    I think no one can predict anyone's future. Because future and success demands many... like luck( it does matter), opportunity, determination, passion, patience etc.
    But it doesn't mean that tests are not useful. Obviously tests are the only thing which can tells you the sincerity of the student. If a person scores good in test that mean he/she studied well but that doesn't mean they are best.
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      Mar 3 2014: Thanks Sam. Yes, there seems very little chance of being able to predict what luck, opportunity, determination, passion and patience will bring.
  • Mar 2 2014: Hi Dear Doug,I think for good scores I got from exams meant nothing for me but encouragement from teachers,parents,myself as well.Now I am not necessary to take part in any exam anymore.Then I am mulling what motivate me to keep studying?

    That's really sth deserving us to mull more:Because I often tried to recall what knowledge I learnt from my physics or chemistry or ...teachers teaching.I completely don't remeber what they taught me but their encouragement or very kind smilings impressed me a lot.All these urge me to mull of what education it is often.
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      Mar 3 2014: Yes, perhaps a kind smile is some of the best feedback you can get! Thanks!
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    Mar 2 2014: Thanks very much George. Thought it was very interesting that you thought you were "poor" in most of your subjects in school, and yet you are successful out of school. I love that you didn't take "poor in school" to mean "poor in life!" I can only wonder how many people would not have had your ability to see beyond what school "told" you.
  • Mar 1 2014: I am not sure how reliable testing is at predicting future outcomes. Before taking a test on skills or other abilities, an evaluation should first be determined to see how well the individual scores on tests in general. When I was young, schools did not teach test-taking skills before they evaluated the results of the tests I took. Thus, are we evaluating the true abilities of the individual, or the ability to perform well on a test? And, can we tell the difference?

    For example, an assistant of mine who had passed all the tests to earn a 4-year degree in marketing could write excellent copy, with perfect grammar, that covered all the features, benefits and reasons to buy our products. He was a very smart young man. However, from my viewpoint as the marketing communications manager, at that time in his career he could not write copy that was compelling or could empathize with his customer's needs or expectations. So was he a good writer? Yes and no. By one test standard he was, by another test standard he wasn't. The difference was something he would only learn on the job from a mentor who did it well. That became my job once I recognized the lack of understanding the need to address and acquire the skill. I would not say he lacked the ability but rather he did not realize the importance of the need to acquire the skill.

    In high school I failed typing three times and was poor in most of my subjects, yet I had a successful career creating advertising and marketing communications because I had acquired the skill to empathize and inform via the materials I produced. At 64, my grammar and typing skills are still wanting, yet, despite these poor skill levels I created materials that compelled my audience to take action favorable to my client's goals worldwide.
  • Mar 1 2014: If you are speaking directly about content related tests such as advanced placement tests or SAT test, I would say no.

    I work in a culture that believes in testing and preparing for the tests. Which is great, because they know how to take tests and can answer basic information, because that is what is needed on most tests. Know the right answer, score well on test.

    However, I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that this process does not lend itself to retaining information long - term. It is short - term memory and recall. That doesn't mean the students will know the information and retain it later, just that they knew it on the day of the test and tested well. General Knowledge tests do not indicate success in the future.
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      Mar 2 2014: Thanks Everett. Do you think that tests/exams should be eliminated? Or that perhaps they should be designed differently?
      • Mar 2 2014: Let's be honest. tests and exams will never go away. No matter how we move away from them in education, there will always be tests and exams.

        Should they be designed differently, yes, absolutely. More emphasis placed on the thought process and less on direct recall or content knowledge. More application and synthesis is needed, but also more difficult to create and grade.

        The students I work with, in the culture I am in, are masters of learning HOW to take tests. But, ask them to recall information afterwards and many have difficulty with it. They learn for the test and immediately forget what they learned.

        So yes, create different tests, but I don't have a solid answer as to what they should look like.
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          Mar 3 2014: I appreciate your answer Everett.
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    Mar 1 2014: The GMA is a predictive exam, designed specifically to predict future ability and seems to have some success in doing so. I'm mainly talking about exams given in schools (I should have been more specific) for people learning a specific subject. I'm doubtful that very many of those exams are designed with the predictive rigor that the GMA was designed with. And if not, why give them?
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    Mar 1 2014: In general, good test-takers are also good analytical thinkers and problem-solvers. Good analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are not enough to guarantee success but are useful in many real life situations.
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      Mar 7 2014: While this may be the case for some people, it is not universally true (in my opinion). When you say "test", I envision an SAT, ACT or professional qualification tests. Those are largely question and answer. Those tests can be standardized and given to large numbers of people.

      While I see the value in this, I don't see how these measure practical knowledge or subject mastery. If I mention something I remember from a class I took decades ago during a meeting, I am sure to get sideways looks. I fear that many, if not most, students learn only for the test or grade.
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        Mar 8 2014: Amen, Mr. Emerson. Education is a life-long endeavor and should not be confined to the syllabus and textbooks.

        A well-designed test should include a broad range of topics and skills and in order to prepare for these types of tests, one should get more education beyond the confines of classroom lectures.
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    Mar 1 2014: Tests and exams can not really predict the future; but there has to be a criteria for learners' assessment, and it has to have a common basis.

    The future is largely in the hands of the students/pupils. Exams and tests helps to seperate the 'chaff' from the 'wheat', the 'dross' from the 'gold'.

    Who is the chaff? Who is the wheat? Who is the dross? Who is the gold? The learners' get to decide this by what they do after schools have their say.
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      Mar 2 2014: Thank you Feyisayo. Interesting points. Do you think that if a test determines someone as chaff and someone else as wheat, that the chaff will stay as chaff and the wheat as wheat? In which case the test predicted something. I suppose that could make some of the chaff people to desire becoming wheat, but it may also cause others to think they are always going to be chaff. What do you think?
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        Mar 2 2014: I agree with you. One's choice is usually based on influences, but it is still a personal choice.
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          Mar 3 2014: Influence, there's a lot there to think about. Thank you!
  • Feb 28 2014: How much does the psychological pressure exerted by the presence of an exam or its result have on the person going through it? Can such a psychological pressure in fact be a form of self fulfilling prophecy when it comes to the success of the individual in future life?
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      Mar 2 2014: Very interesting point Frank - thanks. I'm gathering that you feel that exams may not tell us much or anything about a student's mastery of a subject, but we can be fairly certain that the exam itself will probably have negative effect on a person's life.
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    Feb 28 2014: In most subjects, that is beyond the scope of what tests are designed to measure.

    It seems from your profile that you might be a music teacher? What aspects of how you assess students do you think are predictive of their future success in music? Is that what you are actually trying to measure when you examine students?
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      Mar 1 2014: Thanks Fritzie - Music teacher sounds interesting, but I'm an instructional designer (part time musician). I have taught college math, humanities and science in the past. I started this conversation as a beginning to investigate the value of exams, or when/when not to use exams as valuable learning tools. Furthermore, if exams only measure what a person knows at the time of the exam, is it very useful as a predictor of what they can do with the knowledge in the future (either near or far). For example, I don't think the SAT predicts that much (first year college performance I believe, but how much value is college if someone only completes one year?), and yet a lot of time, money and emphasis are put on the SAT.
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        Mar 1 2014: I don't think the research indicates that the SAT predicts only first year performance. I think, rather, that the studies of the SAT have typically used first year data. I don't know whether that is because there is a high correlation between first year and overall GPA, making first year a strong instrumental variable for overall college performance or for convenience or for some other reason. While I see studies indicating the SAT is a strong predictor of first year college performance, I have not seen any that says it is not a good predictor of performance in later years. Do share a link if you have one that suggests SAT predicts achievement only for the first year.

        As you are a teacher or have been one, you probably have used assessments of a variety of types to get a snapshot of whether students seem to be understanding the course content to date. That is typically called "formative assessment," as it gives the teacher information on which ideas are not coming through and need her further attention and gives students information as to the areas they need to look at more closely. The end of course assessment is typically designed to measure how well a student has pulled together and retained the course material over the term, often demonstrated by application to whatever kind of question or problem the course was designed to prepare a student to answer. That is called "summative assessment."

        Another purpose of an end of course exam is to motivate a student to review the course material. Review offers the opportunity for another integration of what the student learned and is well demonstrated to help content into long term memory.

        Some exams are meant to verify what has been retained over the long term. As you know a student applying to graduate school in a subject must demonstrate competency across the four years of study of that area, usually prompting yet another review of material learned often years earlier.
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        Mar 2 2014: I don't know whether you want to put too much focus in the discussion on the SAT. We know any test is flawed. I have read some work saying that the SAT subject tests are the best predictors among tests and also that the SAT-Writing subtest has better explanatory power than the SAT1 as a whole.

        But when people outside of education talk about tests, they often assume that college admission is based only or largely on that test, as it is in some countries. In the US the SAT is one of many factors that influence college admission. An admissions committee considers tests, recommendations, school grades, curriculum pursued at school, essays the student writes, and outside of school activities and acknowledgement.

        The tests are only inputs into decisions rather than a tool meant to summarize the student's potential.
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    Feb 28 2014: Many studies show that tests generally test g, or general intelligence as conceived by Charles Spearman, and that this g is the single most reliable predictor for future job performance, with increasing reliability as job complexity increases.