I’m grateful to have grown up in the United States and to have attended school here from elementary school all the way through now as a college sophomore. But while our educational institutions are seen as among the world’s best, there is a huge problem with the way our schools of all levels teach.
There is a heavy emphasis on testing and memorization but not so much on understanding. Kids from a very young age learn to stuff facts in their brain and mentally regurgitate them on tests. Even college entrance exams like SAT and ACT are firmly dependent on that. More and more, a handful of colleges are starting to see those tests as optional instead of required.
In small colleges and large universities alike, students are required to take multiple choice and fill in the blank quizzes for their classes, especially the larger ones. I love BU and I think it’s an excellent school but it’s no exception––I have to take weekly quizzes for my Communication Theory class. I respect the professor and BU as a whole, but I really don’t understand the point of these quizzes. They are open book, which means that really what the professor is looking for is not a student’s understanding, but how well they can look for information.
Several intelligent students do well on this kind of test, but many other intelligent students do very poorly. They may understand the concepts but not so much the questions, perhaps the format, or something else. It is an extremely frustrating feeling to take a test or quiz and do poorly when you know you understand the material. I have always struggled with multiple choice and memorization-based testing, and I have always felt that they really don’t prove anything.
Learning is not crowding your brain with facts and mechanically outputting them in the form of a test. I think in the United States schools of all levels are dependent on this sort of method. Middle schools and high schools teach for the test, and colleges expect you to show your “understanding” in this format.
I believe understanding or lack thereof is shown through written-out work, whether it is an essay or a mathematical problem. This way, the teacher or the professor can discern if a student needs help, if the class is not comprehending a certain concept, or if students have truly learned. In classes that “teach for the test”, the current students won’t remember what was taught weeks, months, or even years later––because they didn’t really learn it, they didn’t comprehend it––they memorized it temporarily in order to do well enough on a test.
Education should not depend on how well you can fill your brain with facts, nor should it depend on tests that are more about how you play the game than what you know. I am so glad that more and more colleges are beginning to rethink SAT and ACT requirements, but we still have a long way to go.