Enough with the Testing Already

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

I came across this article: “Sorry, I’m Not Taking This Test” | Mother Jones.

We don’t seem to be quite as maniacal about it in Canada, but standardized testing has spread like an epidemic in the US. Without the proper perspective it has the power to completely distort what education is supposed to be. Most tests these days are about sorting students (or their teachers). Tests are the gatekeepers of advancement – if you don’t do well enough on the test, you don’t get to proceed. Who cares why?

Do you freeze up during tests? Too bad.

Were there some things you didn’t quite understand, so getting a bit more help on the material itself would have helped you far more than yet another test review? Sucks to be you, I guess.

Did you study the wrong things? Too bad. Your test says you blew it, so clearly, you aren’t good enough.

Tests can and should be used to mark a student’s progress. They can and should be used for diagnostic purposes – to let students see what they know and where they need to do more work.

They should NOT be used as the sole or even primary means of assessing a student.


Over the years, I came to dislike giving tests and exams more and more. It bugs me that some kids can get by without doing any of the work but by being good at doing tests. It really bugs me to see students working hard all term and actually learning things, only to fall flat on an exam.

I’ve been developing a very practical approach to gamification in my classes, and my students have a great deal of choice in how they demonstrate mastery of the material. We still have quizzes and we even have a final exam (it’s called the Boss Battle, of course). The difference is that ALL of my tests are optional. Students need to earn a certain number of points in order to pass, but taking the tests is only ONE way. If they have earned enough points over the term to pass the course, then they can skip the final exam. Some do. Something fundamental changes though when the exam becomes optional – the anxiety mostly disappears, and the test goes back to being what all tests should be: a measure of the student’s progress. I have students who get to the end of term with more than enough points to earn an A+, and most of them STILL come and write the final. Cool, huh? They do it just to see how they will do – for them, it’s about personal feedback. If they already have an A+, there is NOTHING they can do to wreck that.


Think about this for a bit: I have students who CHOOSE to write a final exam that can in no way affect their mark.

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