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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Real life testing

So, what is a test? Among many other definitions, it's "achieve a certain score or rating on a test". Most tests that one will do is constrained to a certain subject (for example, Elementary English), or even just a certain area within a specific subject (Estimating the Airspeed Velocity of an Unladen Swallow in Physics).

Why should we have a limit in the areas that we're tested on? For one, it's to protect the folks that are taking the test. For example, there's no way that an English teacher, while conducting a test in Elementary English, will fail a student in the test just because he has no knowledge of Klingon language.

Another example that i can think of is that one will not fail his Elementary English test because he has a number of errors in his Physics test.

Usually, the passing standard is usually agreed upon before one takes a test. One doesn't necessary get to "agree" on the standard, but at least the standard is known. For example, the passing grade for the driving test here in Washington is 80 out of 100. You don't get to agree on it, but you know it well before you take your driving test.

A controlled environment is quite common in tests as well. You don't get to do your Elementary English test in a Indy 500 racing course; neither do you do your driving test in a high school car park (i hope not!).

Objective testing vs subjective testing is always something that can be argued till kingdom come. Even in our primary example of Elementary English, you can have an objective test using multiple choice questions vs an open and subjective composition test.

Subjective testing scores are further skewed when the examiner has a goal in mind before evaluating the test entries. My high school English teacher usually score a "A" grade for me and a "C" grade for my classmate, basing on the fact that he was one of the students that was weak in English while i was always in the top two for English in the high school. So, we decided to play a prank on the English (he was an expatriate from Norwich, England) teacher and we wrote our usual compositions, gave each other our original work, and copied each other's work 100%.

At the end, I still received a "A" for my friend's usually "C" work, while my friend got a "C" for my usually "A" work! That's not totally scientific, but hey.. that proved a point. If you have a predetermined goal in mind, whatever that you are testing for will be affected.

So unless you are perfect, errors will be found (perhaps a typo, a grammatical error, drove through a red light etc) and you might fail the test. One thing that you shouldn't be justifying will be the fact that you drove through the red light because the light was too dim, or your pencil suddenly made you do a typo. As another well known antivirus researcher has mentioned, "No point in looking at the color of my shirt and scoring my application based on that.". You also shouldn't expect people to mark your test based on irrelevant, or worse, constantly changing baselines during a test.

Most importantly, if you fail, you are held accountable for the failure. You either have to retake the test, take another subject, or fail the whole course altogether. Your actions will be based on your prior actions. As easy as that. Nothing of those comments such as "Wow.. your test is very difficult. Are you sure this is meant for Elementary grades instead of High School levels?", "Hmm.. your questions made me look bad. Let's take these questions out and give me some easier ones to handle.".

So what should you do if you fail? I hope that you don't go crying to your parents. They shouldn't help you to argue with the instructors for a passing grade. They should help you to find out why you have failed, and help you to improve. If you lose the World Series, you don't go crying to your coach and ask the Major League to replay the series again. You lose the series, you figure it out, and move on. Similarly, Zidane lost the World Cup for France. He cried. Even though it was found out later that the Italian defender Marco Materazzi did insult his family, he (and France) took the defeat in a sporting manner. Did he ask for a replay? No.

That's how real life from my life in Singapore has shown me. I don't think the examples above really works that way here now.

What do you think?

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