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Importance of testing in Psychology and education

Testing, in education and psychology, is an attempt to measure a person's knowledge, intelligence, or other characteristics in a systematic way. There are many types of tests. Teachers give tests to discover the learning abilities of their students. They also give tests to see how well students have learned a particular subject. Some tests help people choose a vocation, and other tests help them understand their own personality. 

Standardized tests 

Most printed tests taken by students and others are standardized. A test has been standardized after it has been used, revised, and used again until it shows consistent results and average levels of performance have been established. Firms that prepare standardized tests include information with them on how to give and score each test. The results of one person's performance may be compared with those of many others who have taken the same test. Most teachers also use nonstandardized tests that they make up themselves. The quality of a test is judged by three major standards: (1) validity, (2) reliability, and (3) practicality. 

Validity reflects how well a test measures what it is intended to measure. For example, a test of reading comprehension could lose validity if it allows too little time for taking the test. It might actually measure reading speed rather than comprehension. 

Reliability refers to the consistency of results achieved by the test. To establish reliability, a test may be given to the same group several times. If very similar results are obtained each time, the test may be considered highly reliable. 

Practicality involves the cost and convenience of the test. If a test requires too much expense or effort, it may be impractical. It also may be impractical if the results are too difficult to interpret. 

Kinds of tests 

Most tests are designed to measure one of several characteristics: (1) learning ability, (2) learning achievement, (3) aptitude and interest, or (4) personality. 

Tests of learning ability attempt to predict how well an individual will perform in a situation requiring intellectual ability. These tests are sometimes called intelligence tests, mental ability tests, academic aptitude tests, or scholastic aptitude tests. 

A learning ability test consists of a standard set of tasks or questions. It enables a student to demonstrate the skills learned throughout the individual's life, both in and out of school. Tests of learning ability do not measure how "bright" a person is. Educators use the terms intelligence and mental ability simply to describe a person's ability to solve certain kinds of problems typically involved in schoolwork. These terms do not reflect a person's ability in all areas. . 

Achievement tests try to measure how much an individual has learned about a particular subject, rather than the general ability for learning. Schools use achievement tests more than any other kind of test. Throughout primary school, secondary school, and college, most teachers rely on such tests when rating a student's progress. Special achievement tests are used to licence people in such professions as law, medicine, and accounting. 

Many teachers prepare achievement tests that closely follow their own method of instruction. They also use standardized achievement tests. Some schools ask students to take standardized achievement tests, as well as scholastic ability tests, for admission or placement. 

There are two types of achievement tests--norm-referenced and criterion-referenced. In norm-referenced tests, each person's performance is compared with those of others who took the test. A student who answers some questions incorrectly would still rank highly if most other students answered a larger number of questions incorrectly. But in criterion-referenced tests, each person's performance is compared with a predetermined standard or criterion. For example, a teacher might decide that 90 per cent of the questions on a test must be answered correctly for a student to earn a passing grade. 

Aptitude and interest tests reveal an individual's talents or preferences for certain activities. A person who likes to tinker with machinery would probably score highly on a test of mechanical aptitude. Such a person has an aptitude for mechanical work--and at least a fairly good chance of succeeding at it. 

Interest tests are also known as interest inventories. In them, a person indicates his or her preferences among large groups of activities, ideas, and circumstances. One of these tests might ask, "Would you rather fix a broken clock, keep a set of accounts, or paint a picture?" Most individuals prefer certain types of activities over others. The pattern of answers reveals the strength of a person's interest in various fields. 

Personality tests attempt to measure an individual's personal traits scientifically. Some standardized personality tests consist of lists of personal questions requiring yes or no answers. The answers can be analysed for various characteristics. For example, a person might score high in social introversion, which would indicate a strong preference for being alone. Such a person might find scientific research more satisfying as a career than teaching science in a classroom. 

Another type of personality test, the projective test, requires individuals to tell what certain images mean to them. In a Rorschach test, for example, a person describes what he or she sees in a number of standardized inkblots. A trained counsellor can often recognize behavioural tendencies in these descriptions. Psychologists use personality tests as clues for further study of an individual. They do not regard them as conclusive evidence about the individual's personality. 

Most personality tests are less reliable and less valid than the other kinds of tests discussed here. Some people criticize their use as an invasion of privacy. 

How to take a test 

Knowing how to take tests does not increase anyone's learning ability or achievement. But it does help a person avoid losing points unnecessarily. Experts in testing offer the following suggestions: 

1. Get all the experience you can in taking tests. The ability to take tests improves with practice. 

2. Cramming before a test is better than no study at all. But a careful review spread over several days is better than cramming. 

3. Be sure you understand the directions at the beginning of a test. Otherwise, you may get a lower score than you deserve because you failed to follow certain instructions. 

4. Answer the questions that are easy for you, and then go back to the hard ones. 

5. If there is no penalty for guessing, answer every question. If there is a penalty, you may still gain points by guessing some answers. On a multiple-choice question, for example, you may know enough about the subject to eliminate some answers. If so, your chance of guessing the correct answer improves considerably. 

Interpreting test scores 

There are several points to keep in mind about test scores. First, a test reflects only a sample of a person's skill or knowledge, not everything about an individual. A test score can tell only how well the person performed on one particular test on one particular day. 

Second, a score on a standardized test compares one person's performance with the performance of others. Such a comparison may provide useful information if all the people taking the test are alike in some important way. Most standardized tests give scores for persons of the same age or in the same class. 

Third, every test score is an estimate rather than a precise measurement. To remind people of this, some scores are reported as bands rather than as a single number. The bands show the range in which a person's actual ability probably lies. 

Testing often has far-reaching effects, and so it receives much attention from educators and social scientists. Criticism has been directed both at the limitations of tests and at their influence. 

Some educators believe multiple-choice tests penalize a student who has an expert knowledge of a subject. Such a student may see flaws in the answer generally accepted as correct. Other critics say that standardized tests discriminate against disadvantaged and minority groups. These students may be unfamiliar with words, terms, and concepts used in the tests. To give these students an equal chance, educators have tried to prepare culture-fair or culture-free tests. Such tests might consist of pictures, symbols, and nonsense syllables that are equally unfamiliar to everyone taking the test. This type of test reduces the influence of cultural background on performance. Tests that use no words at all are called nonverbal tests. 

The general effect of testing on education has also caused concern. Standardized tests sometimes lag behind educational thought and practice. If tests do not measure the content of new syllabuses, they may fail to encourage educational progress. 

Many educators believe there is at least some truth in criticisms of tests. But they also know that testing is necessary in teaching. Tests can determine whether one method of teaching works better than another. Tests can also tell a teacher what help a student needs most. No better way has been found to determine how much students have learned, what they seem able to learn, and how quickly they might learn it.



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