A letter to the teachers of English: 32Test whatyou teach (1) [Archives:2003/688/Education]

November 24 2003

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
The title of this letter is a dictum all of us should keep in mind when we test our students. Some of us at times use tests as an opportunity to display our scholarship and this most often baffles our students in the examination halls. Let's avoid this and make our tests student-friendly.
Test, as you know, is the final step in our curriculum and it has several uses for us. The most important of all these uses is that a test gives us the necessary feedback and tells us if what we have taught has been understood by our students. Without this feedback, we will most often be left without proper guidance and direction. So it is almost like a compass to us and unless we make use of it well, we will be wasting a lot of time and resources.
You should test what you teach, because the objectives of testing are the same as those of teaching. What you aim at when you teach is what you are going to aim at when you test. It does not mean that the test should have all the exercises you give in the class and all the questions you ask in the class. It means that the test should test the language skills and language elements you have taught your students, of course in contexts different from the ones used in the classroom, and not what you have not taught in the class. The test items should be similar to the exercises but not the same as them.
Teaching and testing are like the two sides of a coin; one without the other is not much useful. They are interdependent in such a way that one helps the other; teaching prepares the students for the test and the test provides the feedback for teaching. You can improve the teaching process with the help of this feedback, if necessary; it is a sort of cyclical process. If the teacher happens to be the tester, it is well and good, because the teacher knows the students and what has been taught and how much of it may have been learnt by the students. In your situation, you are the teacher and someone else, probably a senior teacher in the country is the tester; it doesn't matter much. Who knows, you will be the tester one day, Insha Allah.
Researches in the field of testing have thrown light on many aspects of testing and the traditional testing procedure has been improved to a large extent. Several innovative methods of testing have been popularized in order to match those in the field of teaching. We now have communicative testing to go with communicative teaching, and a number of experiments in this area are going on. We also hear about group testing and testing with the help of computers etc.
Since the late 20th century and the beginning of this century, we have heard a lot about critical awareness and critical thinking in every field and testing is no exception; researchers have been working towards critical testing. It is useful to be aware of the new developments in the field of testing, so that you can improve your testing procedure for the benefit of your students. I had an opportunity to look at some of the question papers used in the secondary school common examinations recently. My students in the Faculty of Education and I studied them closely and have found many interesting as well as disturbing things in them. I will write about them later.

Yours fraternally,