Benjamin Saff: Standardized Tests


On a serious note, I want to talk a bit about the exam style here in Mannheim and also the general state of standardized exams in our education systems. Unfortunately there is too big of a focus on standardized test scores in our society today. In an excerpt from the book “Beyond Culture”, the Edward T. Hall talks about society’s “extensions” and “systems” which originally were meant to make things easier or more organized. However, over time these extensions become “over-extended”. In other words, we sometimes loss track of the original intent of these extensions and begin becoming constrained or defined by our extensions. Education is a perfect example of this. Education systems were meant to teach us about the world and give us the necessary skills we require to succeed in society. Unfortunately now, many school systems have lost track of that and instead compete for high rankings on test scores in order to maintain a good reputation and receive funding. And now you have people that are known as “book-smart” but maybe not actually smart is an adaptive or practical way.

I’ve found similar style here in my Mannheim experience. The exams are timed. Each question is worth a certain amount of points and each point is equal to a minutes worth of work. Thus, we have, for example, a 60 minute exam in which you can get a possible score of 60 points. This is a seriously flawed system because different people have different way of thinking and coming up to a solution to a problem. Some people are quick and machine-like when assessing and processing a problem, but others, especially creative-thinkers, can take longer. This timed and standardized exam system inherently gives more value to the quick and systematic thinkers/test-takers and begins to degrade the merit of critical and thorough thinkers. It’s standardized test culture like this here in Mannheim that I believe really needs to change. Luckily, in my experience at Drexel there hasn’t been such an extreme focus on machine-like repetition and memorization and much more focus on critical applications in practical ways. Don’t be scared away by this post. Germany is an amazing host country in every way and I’ve loved my time here. I’ve also heard Mannheim is notorious for grilling exams so other universities will certainly vary. I suppose my experience with the Mannheim’s exam criteria has caused me to reevaluate what I take for granted in terms of education in the U.S. and made me more appreciative of the exam culture at Drexel.

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