The great 'timed test' debate

Nov 11, 2020

This week I want to share with you some thoughts on "Timed Tests".

There is a great deal of debate in the maths education world about asking students to complete this type of work.

Here is a great article by Prof. Jo Boaler you might like to read.

While I agree with the premise of the article, I don't think the answer is as simple as avoiding timed tests altogether.

The reason teachers use timed tests, is mostly because we want to assess fluency

Fluency is one of the four proficiencies in the Australian Curriculum and is REALLY important to develop.

Without fluency everything in maths is harder. One aspect of fluency involves efficiency for example, knowing a fact within 3 seconds.

Students without fluency waste valuable brain power attempting to "pull facts" from their already full working memory.

Let me give you an example:

Let's say you are teaching a Year 6 class.

You are looking at volume and capacity.

You are calculating the volume of your classroom.

Now to calculate Volume we need to multiply the length, width and height of the classroom.

If you have a student who is NOT fluent with their multiplication facts... this activity becomes much more difficult.

They are spending a great deal of working memory trying to work out the multiplication, rather than reflecting deeply about what volume means and perhaps how it connects to the idea of area...

But the problem is... research shows that stress impairs the working memory part of our brain... so when we are doing timed tests... stress levels elevate and students often don't perform to the best of their ability...

So, on one hand we have the absolute need for fluency (and the need for teachers to somehow assess this proficiency),

but on the other hand we know that "times tests" can reinforce damaging messages that "maths is about speed".

My thoughts are.... like with most things in life...we need to find a happy medium...

We need to help students work to improve their fluency, but we certainly don't want students to be comparing themselves with others in their class.

Timing students should always be about each improving their OWN "personal best"

I certainly don't think timed testing is something that needs to be done every day!

I think if we explain to students why we are using the timer- i.e. to gauge if they are improving their OWN personal fluency, and provide them strategies to develop their fluency...

This can help to avoid the anxiety that many feel in a timed test situation.

The reality is... in life we have time limits... in Year 12 and University there are timed exams... at work we have deadlines... so for me, avoiding timed tests is not the answer... but I think explaining the reasoning behind the timing is part of the answer...

Want to learn more from Dr Ange Rogers? Click here to find out about her 'Quality Place Value Assessment in Years 3-6 Mini Course'

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