The Way of Testing Reflects the Way of Studying

Educators and teachers, have you ever thought that your subject's final assessment method can significantly affect the nature of student preparation throughout the semester? What can we do to make this effect rather positive than negative?

17 Jun 2021 Petr Sudický

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The Choice of Assessment Method has a Major Impact on Students' Work

The examination period brings a considerable challenge from the teachers' point of view, not only due to the current situation and the need to evaluate online. The difficult question is always the choice of a method by which it is possible to objectively and consistently examine students' required knowledge and skills. However, there is another, perhaps even more fundamental consideration associated with the choice of an assessment tool - it is the impact of the assessment method on students' preparation and learning process throughout the semester.

Imagine two different final evaluation scenarios to illustrate this phenomenon. The first example is the classic multiple-choice test, which seeks to determine students' knowledge for the entire semester. The nature of such a test means that students are only forced to passively mark the correct and incorrect answers from the offered selection. In addition to applying their actual knowledge, it can lead to using various "testing strategies". That can be just random guessing or a more sophisticated attempt to decipher the test, recognize the specific appearance of correct answers, or identify the general procedure of the teacher in preparing questions.

„Suppose students know that the method of the final assessment is a multiple-choice test. In that case, they will make considerable efforts during the lectures to identify topics easily transformed into such a test.“

However, the outlined negative impact of this assessment method is not only related to the situation where students complete the test - it can be assumed that their work will similarly take place throughout the whole semester. Suppose students know that the method of the final assessment is a multiple-choice test. In that case, they will make considerable efforts during the lectures to identify topics easily transformed into such a test. At the same time, their style of preparation will be more towards memorizing the curriculum than at achieving higher cognitive goals (understanding of procedures, critical thinking, evaluation of contexts, etc.).

Let's consider the second scenario - in this case, student portfolios are used as a course evaluation method. Students conduct portfolios according to the specified criteria throughout the semester, and the teacher also applies peer assessment to them. Obviously, compared to preparing for the test, students in this situation must choose a completely different work strategy. It reflects both the active nature of the evaluation tool (i.e., students must create something themselves), but also the need to think more deeply about the meaning and purpose of their work concerning entered criteria and a critical view of their colleagues, to whom their portfolio will be assigned for review.

Definition of Washback Phenomena

The phenomenon we have described in the given examples is called washback in the classical theory of testing. We can say it is the retroactive impact of the evaluation method on the strategy of preparing students during the teaching cycle. From this perspective, it is a fundamental consideration in the construction of any educational program, whether it is subject or individual study blocks and modules. Thinking about the retroactive effect of the assessment tool on the quality of students' learning process should lead us, among other things, to a wider application of direct and active assessment methods, which can more easily eliminate the adverse effect of evaluation, as well as suppress outlined undesirable practices in student preparation.

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How to Increase the Positive Impacts of Assessment Methods?

And what can be the practical recommendations for achieving a positive washback effect? The basic premise is that students must see meaning in the evaluation beyond obtaining a grade or credit at the end of the course. Only in this case will they lead to a more profound interest in their learning and less interest in negative testing strategies. The involvement of mutual evaluation methods and self-evaluation, in which students are actively involved in the evaluation process in constructive dialogue so that the development of self-reflection is supported, also proves to be a suitable procedure.

„The basic premise is that students must see meaning in the evaluation beyond obtaining a grade or credit at the end of the course.“

From the practical point of view of the evaluation tool construction, we recommend using predetermined evaluation criteria (to increase the transparency of evaluation) and ideally also compose the overall assessment of several sub-aspects to more effectively consider different preferences and approaches to learning on the part of students.

And what about purely factual multiple-choice tests? They certainly play a role in the educational program. Still, the question remains whether they are a suitable method for the final assessment or whether they are better applied in other phases of teaching (e.g., as an aid in continuous assessment, as a tool for students' self-assessment, etc.).

We recommend watching a record of the CERPEK workshop, which deals with several alternative evaluation methods and specific technical solutions you can get inspire by.

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Mgr. Petr Sudický

Specialist in e-learning, technology in education, and communication of science and research. After graduating from teaching programs at the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Arts (MU), he co-founded the E-learning Office of the Faculty of Arts (MU), which he led in 2010–2017. Currently, he works, among other things, as a workshop lecturer and online teaching consultant for the Pedagogical Competence Development Centre (CERPEK).


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Mgr. Linda Nepivodová, Ph.D.

Linda works at the Department of English and American Studies at the Faculty of Arts (MU) and the Department of English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Education (MU). She specializes herself in testing and methodology of foreign language teaching - among other things, as a certified lecturer of the international CELTA program. As part of her internship at MU, she has long been involved in the training of future English teachers and the development of quality language tests.

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