October 5, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 67°F


Memorization is not a measure of skill

For as long as I can remember, I have despised taking tests. They have done almost nothing but lower my GPA and make me feel like I’m not smart enough. I chose a creative major — integrated marketing communications — that allows me to use my knowledge and apply it to projects and real-life scenarios. However, it is senior year and I still can’t seem to avoid these anxiety-inducing “judgments of my knowledge.”

How — as a college student going into a creative and collaborative field — can I be asked to take tests as a way to judge my competency as a student? I spent the summer working for a global software service company and I wasn’t asked to take a test to prove my knowledge. The company didn’t want to know what score I received on my latest marketing exam, it wanted to see the work that I had done and what I learned from it. If I didn’t know something, I would ask my coworkers or look it up. It wasn’t about memorization, because just memorizing something doesn’t mean that I know how to apply it to my work.

I have often found that we’re told test anxiety is caused because the student hasn’t properly prepared or doesn’t understand the material. Not only does this invalidate someone’s anxiety, but it will likely increase these feelings. A student can prove their ability to understand the material in ways other than an exam. Students are now going through another huge transition in their academic careers — switching back from virtual to in-person classes. The phrase “I’m so happy to be back in person, but I have no idea how I’m going to take tests in person again” has become part of our daily conversations. Online learning proved that taking tests with the notes that students took the time to write out and access to the internet increases scores. The world after college isn’t about memorization. It is ok to use your resources. I would highly recommend professors rethink how they administer their tests. For the majority of majors and classes, especially the creative ones, I see no reason why tests shouldn’t be open-note. There are also other options in which a professor can grade their students, including creative projects, presentations or student-proposed projects. I want to understand the material, not memorize it for a test.

It’s interesting because we constantly talk about the pros and cons of standardized testing and how so many people would love to see it eliminated altogether. Most schools became test-optional during the pandemic and Ithaca College has been test-optional for almost 10 years. I started reading the cons to standardized testing and so many of them, in my opinion, transfer over to tests given in the classroom. Some of the big disadvantages that stand out to me are that they can negatively impact a student’s confidence, they are unfair to certain types of learners and they don’t help to predict future success. Tests are always at the discretion of the professor, but if given, I would encourage them to allow students to take open-note tests. This gives them even more of a reason to take good notes and write them in ways that will help them to understand the material.