I had coffee with a friend the other night, and we started discussing college readiness and testing. She teaches AP US History at a local high school, and she said the standardized testing requirements are killing her opportunity to teach and test in a way that will prepare her students for college. Going back for my MBA has been a big change in testing and grade inputs from what I experienced in undergrad, and I feel that high school grades and tests were somewhere in between. In theory, all of this education will prepare you for your career, but I’ve noticed some pretty significant differences between academic tests and real world test.
There’s a pretty big discrepancy between the number of grade inputs in undergrad, grad school, and the real world. For my first two years in undergrad, we had multiple-choice tests, essay tests, homework assignments, and short papers or case studies, similar to high school. So, if you bombed one test, you weren’t too bad off. However, my last two years, which consisted of upper-level classes in my major, were solely case studies, papers, and presentations. There were fewer grade inputs, but still enough to ensure that bombing one case study wouldn’t kill you. I feel like it’s pretty similar to the real world, with lots of projects contributing to your overall “grade” at your performance review. It was a pretty big shock to the system to enter graduate school and find out that most of my classes have only two grade inputs: a mid-term and a final. A few have an additional grade input in the form of a case study or presentation. But still, only two grades, for a whole semester? So if I’m foggy on test day, I’m in trouble! I don’t feel like this minimal number of grade inputs corresponds well to the real world, at least not at the entry level. Very few of my projects are deal-breakers, based on the performance for 2 hours, once a quarter.
There’s also a pretty big discrepancy between academic testing and the real world, in that you rarely have to go completely without notes in the real world. Even on the deal-breaker presentations, I’ve got my notes to refer to, or a PowerPoint to jog my memory. It’s rare that I have to stand in a room and use only the knowledge in my head. I never have to forgo a calculator or Excel spreadsheet when I’m working on calculations, and I can Bing the formulas if I forget them. So, it’s a little odd, particularly in business school, to be forced to only use my head knowledge for a test every 2 months. I feel like the presentations and group work in undergrad was much more representative of working in the corporate world. I think grad school will move in this direction once I finish my basic classes, but I think it’s odd that colleges still use these old testing methods. A lot of research says that US education is terrible because we focus so much on standardized tests that require memorization and regurgitation, instead of critical thinking. You’d think by the time we reach college, we’d be able to handle testing in a way that mirrors real-world critical and creative thinking in the long-run, instead of fact cramming in the short-run.
Finally, academic tests and grade inputs are measured differently than the real world. Most colleges grade on a curve using single numbers to measure performance. There’s not really a degree of success, particularly in the case of multiple-choice tests. This, again, does not mirror the real world. I can complete a project at work with a number of different solutions that result in a number of different outcomes. It’s possible that we were aiming for outcome #1, but ended up with a superior outcome #2. Current testing and grade inputs don’t really allow for different outcomes, and don’t take into account that the “correct” test answer may not be the best answer in the real world. It’s a little frustrating to deal with tests and grades when you know they aren’t correlated to real-world scenarios.
It’s interesting to think about our educational path, and what we’re actually striving for. In high school, it seems like the only goal is to get into a good college, and in college, you are looking for a good job upon graduation. But, if we’re not teaching, testing, and grading in ways that improve our skills and knowledge for the job, what’s the point of all this extra schooling? If you’re considering a graduate program, I highly recommend taking a look at how they test and grade, and look for a program with an emphasis on cases and presentations, as I feel they are much more indicative of what you’ll experience in the real world.