When is the Best Time to Test?

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki janetpic_preferred_cropped

In the U.S. it seems that testing requirements in public school systems only increase, never decrease, due to mandates such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The educational-industrial complex promoting standardized testing loves this.


Standardized testing is done primarily after learning, and thus it is a style of testing to determine if learning has occurred.

This type of testing happens with a significant time lag, on time scales of weeks or months after the learning happens.

Standardized tests do not enhance cognitive abilities, according to this article from the Huffington Post.

A large testing industry has grown up around this type of after-learning evaluation. But is this the best way to test? To what degree does it improve learning? Or is it really just an evaluation methodology for sorting students while in school, and toward college or future career alternatives?

Testing inside the Learning Loop

Wouldn’t it be better to “test inside the loop”, while learning is happening? This provides the opportunity to accelerate learning and to quickly identify shortcomings. Learning becomes more individualized since testing which is intrinsic to the learning process allows for quick review, adjustments and corrections. It also facilitates the coaching role that teachers increasingly are assuming with flipped learning and project-based learning methods.

Quizzing during learning helps students focus. See this article discussing experimental results, from a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University:



Now we are talking about time scales of minutes, hours, or the next day. Feedback is immediate, students see how they are doing right away. And they can re-read the specific areas that cause them trouble, and ask clarifying questions. On the other hand, as soon as they have the content sufficiently mastered they can move to the next lesson right away.

That’s what coaching is, in any case. It’s about real-time checking and feedback within the learning process. And it’s already established that individualized coaching can provide a two standard deviation boost in performance. Every teacher does this with his or her students, checking for understanding, but in traditional classroom environments, the feedback is limited. Many students choose to not respond in a group setting  when they don’t understand something.

There are over 54,000 resources freely available on Curriki which can be used to support more individualized learning and project-based learning (PBL). Here’s a video about PBL, which generally employs testing embedded within the learning process. In this case testing is used to enhance learning itself, not simply measure what was learned afterwards!

Images: Wellcome Library, London, CC-BY 2.0 license

One response to “When is the Best Time to Test?

  1. Thank you curriki’s

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