HOW EFFECTIVE IS TESTING WITH PAST QUESTIONS?
By Hassan Abdulbaqi
We called it Mock Examination back then. It is a secondary school examination that usually precedes the external examinations, especially WAEC and NECO. I mentioned what we called it back then because times have changed and continues to change. ‘Times have changed’ here may make you feel as if I am an old grandpa, but I am only a young chap who completed secondary school in 2013. 2013 from now did not have lots of Montessori and Phonics and Mental Maths in our pre-primary and primary schools. Pupils were taught more of ‘A B C!’ alphabets and not taught to speak through their noses in the oyinbo style because there were many teachers who were not products of speaking through noses. So like I said, we called it Mock Examination.
It happened in the secondary school I graduated from, the ones I visit and it is still happening. This, of course, is the case of testing students preparing for examinations by repeating the past questions of WAEC and NECO of a whole year verbatim. This kind of testing is not even exclusive to secondary school teachers for the same happens in universities especially the GSTs (General Studies). It saves the teacher’s time, a copy of the Past Question Series only had to be given to the printer for typesetting and printing. The external examination bodies repeat many questions every year, they claim. But yet, except if we want to shy away from calling a spade what it is, this mode of testing has flaws that call for its urgent jettisoning and rather, adopt more practical ways.
One of the problems with this mode of testing is that most students recourse to direct memorization of the answers to a question rather than studying such questions and similar questions from such a topic. That is, a student for example, can easily jump at a particular answer without knowing why such answers are correct for the popular past question series most students buy are just a handbook of questions and answers. The reason why ‘A’ was chosen in lieu of other options will not be given. This, of course, is in variance with the goals of education which is to become learned and informed individuals. A memorized answer that cannot be accounted for is apposite to the best legacy that we call for. This shall only be a blockage to the student’s exposure, experience, wide reading and many other essentials that are needed to drive the students into a blossom blend of intelligence, information and smartness.
Apart from this, dubbing of past questions for students does not give them the needed strength to pass the external examinations they are indeed preparing for. This is because the examination bodies, though repeat questions that are seemingly similar due to the fact all the questions are based on a single syllabus, it does not repeat the same question each year as it is in the case of Mock Examinations. Questions are properly set according to the standards of the syllabus and the previously memorized version of the past question would equally amount to nothing.
The conclusion that this mode of testing saves the teachers’ time of having to work vigorously on setting new questions is only a reflection of those who think the major duty of the teacher is to teach. The teacher is not there to teach majorly but to help students realize and in most cases, actualize their maximum potentials. The teacher is not expected to see his major duty as a routine where he has to come to class at a particular period and leave after his time elapses. The ideal teacher admires change, which is the result of any real learning. If there is a preferred solution that works effectively than the already devised means, an ideal teacher goes for it. (Read BEING A TEACHER PAYS)
Just as cutting off the head is not the medicine of headache, this mode of testing may not be necessarily shut out completely. It does not also mean that the teacher now has to do everything. Questions may be brought forth from several parts of the past questions, provided options may be interchanged or replaced, and newspapers articles and stories aside from those already used by WAEC and NECO may replace comprehension and summary passages. These processes shall in turn, force the students to think outside the box, contribute meaningfully and become fully equipped, not only to pass their external examinations successfully but also smart enough to apply their learning and experience in the outside world.
Just as we work towards improving the standards of education in terms of Mental Maths, Phonics, Montessori and ‘speaking through noses’, we should not forget about effectiveness in testing, which should be more about knowing how well the students have understood, rather than how much he or she has memorized.