Do rigorous examinations have to be memory tests?

I must admit this is the biggest misrepresentation in the examinations debate. As a Mathematics teacher, it would appear that often a Maths exam turns into a memory test, and this is the argument used most often by those who are condemning rt.Hon Michael Gove’s plans.

Now, there is no doubt that any Maths exam will have a large element of testing the memory. There are many different methods used in calculating the answers to percentage questions. Yes, each can be derived from the basic method,  but the pupils need an understanding of how percentages are calculated in order to derive the methods. The examinee needs to carefully read the question and then determine the course of action required to calculate the answer.

This topic is not the only one where a well written examination question can test whatever is intended. Some people think algebra is best tested by simply creating questions that test the recsall and use of recalled methods. That is not all though. It is entirely possible to create questions where the pupil must use algebraic techniques to solve problems. In fact, it is quite possible to create a very rigorous examination that checks understanding as well as memory (recall).

To that extent, it depends upon the marking criteria as to whether an examination ends up a memory test or an examination of a person’s ability to use information and reflect upon it. Take History for instance; why is it difficult to have a pupil read and interpret an essay or part of a longer structured research article. It is how the answer is marked that makes the examination rigorous.

So, as I’ve said, the whole debate surrounding rigorous examinations being memory tests is nothing but an insulting misrepresentation.

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