The Testin’ Question

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Standardized testing is the yardstick of the educational system and how we do on tests can determine where we go in life. Since the imperial examinations conducted in sixth century China, how one scores against their academic counterparts has surely been a nerve-racking experience. But considering the pressures placed on students and the knowledge-cramming rituals that most obey before test time, how effective are tests at measuring intelligence? We asked students from Yew Chung International School Beijing to weigh in on the importance of testing.

From left:
Annabelle McCombe, 15, England
Phoebe Woo Sze Lok, 15, China
Augustin Grougeon, 14, France
Hannah Kloek, 15, Singapore

Is a grading system in schools necessary?  
Augustin: It gives a checkpoint system to show where students are at, and I think that’s pretty important.
Phoebe: I think grading makes us know where we stand on a scale.
Hannah: We need to know where we stand, where to improve and see if we are improving.

Are exams a good measure of intelligence?
Hannah: They put a lot of pressure on children to get good scores. I think there can be some odd mistakes made, like you forgot an equation. I think they should spread out your mark more then they do, rather than just one big exam in front of you.
Phoebe: It just gives us a lot of pressure. A few weeks, a few days before the exam, people tense up. They cram and they don’t sleep a lot – it’s bad for your health. Teachers put a lot of pressure on [testing]because teachers are graded by how well their students do.
Augustin: Tests are a useful tool in an education system, but they can be used incorrectly. I think if students were encouraged to study on a daily basis instead of right before [the exam], then exams would be useful because they would show what students actually know and not what they can memorize in two nights.

How do you think students would perform in a school with no grading?
Annabelle: If the school lays out certain rules and if the teachers still encourage the students to do better – or give them a little push in the right direction – then I think a system without grades can work. It gives [students]more opportunity to improve rather than being disheartened by bad grades.
Hannah: If there was no sense of a grading system there’d be no sense of direction – of what is right and wrong. The educational system would probably fail.

How do students react to a bad grade?
Annabelle: I think it depends on the student. If a student considers that they are a good student, getting a bad grade might motivate them to learn the subject better. But if it’s a teenager that gets bad grades often and just gets another one, then it’s not going to motivate them to get better.
Hannah: I think it definitely depends on the parents. A lot of teachers tell us to bring our tests back to our parents to be signed. If the parents have a negative view on the test they might look down on the child. Therefore, the child will feel more insecure. But if they do good, their parents might reward them.

What do you think of the Chinese testing system?Annabelle: It seems way too harsh. I know some Chinese students and they study, like, a lot. They spend their entire weekends and free time studying because they know the teachers will yell at them if they don’t. I think there is so much pressure and it’s not necessarily a good thing for them.
Phoebe: I was actually in the Chinese system so I kind of know. It’s not all that different. It’s just a matter of getting used to it really.
Hannah: I think the Chinese educational system is good for some children because it pushes their limits and brings out the best that they can be. It’s good for child development because it kind of prepares them for the real world, which is important for adulthood and finding a job.

Do you think there’s a big difference between an A and a B student?
Phoebe: Your grade does not show everything about you. Maybe you’re just weak at studying, or maybe you just do badly at art.
Annabelle: I think B students get just as much out of school as any A student does, but maybe they can’t be bothered to do the work that’s necessary to get a good grade.

Are there any subjects you think shouldn’t require grades?
Annabelle: I don’t think artistic students should have a grading system and it’s not because I don’t do well! It’s because one person might see what they’ve done in one way, while the teacher will see it in another way, so it’s unfair.
Phoebe: I think the language subjects and the art subjects shouldn’t be graded at all. I think [grading]art is more of an opinion. You can’t really say – well, unless you totally like screwed up the painting, "Oh, this is a bad painting."
Augustin: I think there definitely is a subjective side to the arts. But I think the way we are graded in our school is really good. The teachers don’t grade us on whether they like it, or the quality of our art, but grade it on the effort put in and I think that’s what it should be.

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