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
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
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
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
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
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.