Some musings about timed tests

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I would be highly surprised if anyone reading this has never been given a timed test- whether it’s as simple as a math fact quiz or as intense as a final exam, I think we can safely say that we’ve all been there. I am currently enrolled in a six week semester at my local community college, and the midterm exam we took today got me thinking. It was 50 questions, multiple choice, and the professor set a timer for 30 minutes as soon as he walked in the door. Not exactly an unheard of amount of time for a 50 question test, but what was concerning is the fact that he didn’t wait for everyone to be ready, he just set the timer and let it run. Students were scrambling to their seats, looking for pencils, verifying directions or instructions- does this sound like an appropriate setting for a learning assessment? Even though I felt fairly confident about my knowledge of the subject matter, I felt anxious and uneasy given the fact that I was constrained by time. I found my eyes blurring over and more than once, I had to force myself to go through the motions of reading the question and filling in the answer. Had I not been restricted by the relentless tick, tick, tick of the timer, I probably would have finished in the same amount of time, but without the anxiety and blurry eyes.

After the exam, I did a quick Google search to see if I could find any research confirming the pros or cons of timed tests. Many of the studies I found did indicate that students do not perform to the best of their ability when a test is timed. In many ways, it goes against what I have been taught in my graduate classes about how to check for understanding and to assess students’ learning.

What do you think, Internet? Are timed tests okay in some situations? All situations? No situations?

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