How Test Retakes Can Remind Us to Actually Learn

Photo by Annabelle Elmaleh

By Eu Ro Wang

Opinions Contributor

The list of successful high school or college dropouts is incredible, consisting of some of the most bright, creative, and successful individuals ever. Most of these dropouts were motivated to abandon their scholarly pursuits after realizing that the learning component of their education was absent. From this came one of the most famous quotes concerning education by a high school dropout, Albert Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

While this quote mainly brings to light how we try to fit everyone’s education into a one-size-fits-all-policy, it also exemplifies the administration’s rejection of learning as a priority. With focus on grades and college admission penetrating our lives as students further and further, administrators have also compromised a theoretically amazing system of education in which learning took precedent over competition.

This diversion of our educational system’s focus has been detrimental to students in many ways. For administrators, with Mr. Stembridge leading the way, mental health and stress management have been big topics of discussion in the past couple years. One of the causes of poor mental health could be traced to the fundamental diversion of focus by the administration.

Due to the increasing focus on competition, many teachers have increased the value on major tests which, in some cases, are weighed as more than 50% of a student’s term grade. Moreover, with only a couple tests per term, these value of scores inflates until they basically determine your grade for the term. This puts significant stress on a student because these couple– or sometimes even singular– tests will determine their grade, leaving very little flexibility in improving their grade if they make a mistake on the test.

From this, the administrators foster even more competition between students, implementing curves that force students to outdo each other, which further adds on stress and pressure to students. This and failure to aid mental health solutions can lead to impacts ranging from self-doubt and worse performance to far more devastating measures on the part of the students, including self destructive behaviors.

The entire purpose of a school is to educate people and aid students in learning about diverse subjects to help them succeed later in life. Tests are designed to examine the knowledge of someone on a particular topic and assess how much they have learned. Tests are not and should not be about how fast you can analyze a poem or do a math problem. It shouldn’t be about how well you can take an exam under pressure or even how quickly you can process and understand material.

South’s administration has diverted its focus from students learning about and engaging with material and really cementing it to just getting the good grade and being able to complete a set of problems quickly.

For me, tests have always been my strong suit. I consider myself a good test taker, but I do not take any pride in it. I actually think it is unfair that people evaluate me as “smarter” or “better” at a subject than my peers who understand the material in a greater depth and will remember it for much longer than myself. Even with this strength, I did not do nearly as well as I expected myself to do on two of my final exams last year. During both math final exam and English final exam, I had a really bad stomach ache that stole a significant portion of the given time from me.

Tests are designed to examine the knowledge of someone on a particular topic and assess how much they have learned. Tests are not and should not be about how fast you can analyze a poem or do a math problem. It shouldn’t be about how well you can take an exam under pressure or even how quickly you can process and understand material.

Because of this, even though I understood the material well, I was not able to demonstrate my understanding of the topic because of the lack of time and the circumstance I was in that day. From my “failure” to demonstrate my understanding fully, I was stressed out and was very disappointed by those grades.

Even though it is clear that tests and their implications are detrimental to a student’s learning process and mental health, tests do have benefits that the administration heavily relies on, so it would be unfeasible to defend removal of all tests. However, there is a simple change that the teachers and the administration could make that would provide a solution to the problems surrounding test taking: guarantee test retakes for all students.

As said earlier, the entire point of school is to educate students about diverse topics. Tests should be used only as another tool to achieve this goal because if not, tests have no place in a school system. The only purpose behind tests, when true learning is paramount, is to assess how much the student needs to improve in order to learn the topic to the extent that the administration desires.

However, without the possibility of retakes, most students just check their grade when they get their tests back and do not really work on fixing the mistakes or improving upon the mistakes. When retakes are guaranteed for all students, it decreases stress that follows a bad test day or an incomplete understanding of the topic or even an overestimation of one’s understanding of the topic. This is one of the key motivations for allowing retakes on standardized tests such as the SAT or the ACT. With retakes, people will have another resource to learn from: their own mistakes.

Schools are founded on the principle of providing students with an education and enabling people of all backgrounds to learn. Tests were created as a tool to ensure the students knew the material. It is unfortunate that tests have a totally different purpose now. But once we identify that there is a problem and a viable solution, it’s time to refocus the purpose of school and remind ourselves that we’re all here to learn.

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