Parents and teachers alike tell us about how much harder they had it back when they were in school. They didn’t have the internet to look up answers and had to open a book to learn. What they don’t realize is that the advancement in technology also means teachers now have the restrictive capabilities to make tests unnecessarily harder than they used to be.
Picture this: You are sitting in your hardest class, waiting to take your test that is four pages long and has 100 questions. Each tick of the clock makes your heart beat faster. This scenario is hard enough as it is. It forces students to face their anxiety and accurately recite challenging information under pressure. Here, students not only demonstrate they know the information, but they also show that they can use the information in quick thinking written scenarios that represent demands of their future career. Overall, the challenging aspects of these tests usually make sense.
Now, imagine you have to take the exact same test online. However, now the clock is a little square in the corner of your screen now and your pencil is a sleek keypad. Oh, and now your teacher can lock each page of the test so you cannot review previous questions or check your work. Now, not only do you feel the pressure of the clock, but you feel the pressure of perfectionism. You cannot leave answers blank until later like you were taught to and pacing yourself becomes even more challenging because you have to get everything right on the first try.
Another example of how technology makes tests more challenging is written answers. In person, a teacher would have to hand grade free-response questions. This allows room for insignificant errors, such as failing to capitalize the first word or leaving out a period in a one-sentence answer. Online, these insignificant errors can cause students to miss points on the exact same questions.
Tests were originally created to prepare students and give them a space to demonstrate what they learned. However, the addition of these technological restraints prohibits this. Instead, it teaches students they can never double-check themselves. This is not how the real world works, and it leads to preventable stress and anxiety for students.
In the real world, a doctor would be able to write a note in all caps or lowercase and still successfully treat their patient. An engineer would be able to triple work a problem before putting it into action, and a journalist would be able to reread a piece before submitting it. The extra restrictions of online tests fail to accurately prepare students for applying the information to scenarios representative of their careers in a way that traditional tests are more capable of doing.
Additionally, the inconsistency of in-person and online classes right now results in some students having the chance to take the exact same tests in person, potentially putting them unfairly ahead of those taking harder online tests. This inconsistency challenges certain students and places them at a disadvantage in the classroom and in the race for the job market. An A-worthy grade should be the same for students taking the same class no matter the format the test is taken in.
Overall, technology has helped tremendously in expanding the opportunities and reach of students. However, teachers who use online exams need to mirror their tests to their in-person tests instead of purposely adding additional challenges to them. If the test pages were not locked in-person, then they should not be locked virtually. If the written answers were hand graded in person, then they should be online too. Students’ lives are stressful enough, there's no point in making them harder.