Test (assessment)

A test or examination (informal, exam or assessment) is an assessment designed to measure a candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities, fitness or classification in many other areas (eg, beliefs). A test can be administered verbally, on paper, on a computer or in a predetermined area that requires a candidate to demonstrate or execute a skill set. The tests vary according to style, rigor and requirements. For example, in a closed book test, a candidate must generally rely on memory to respond to specific items, while in an open book test, a candidate may use one or more additional tools such as a reference book or a calculator. . A test can be administered formally or informally. An example of an informal test would be a reading test administered by a parent to a child. A formal test could be a final exam administered by a teacher in a classroom or I.Q. test administered by a psychologist in a clinic. Formal tests often give a mark or score to the test. A test score can be interpreted according to a standard or criterion, or sometimes both. The standard can be established independently, or by statistical analysis of a large number of participants. An exam is intended to test a child’s knowledge or willingness to give time to manipulate that subject. A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored consistently to ensure legality. Standardized tests are often used in education, professional certification, psychology (eg, MMPI), the military and many other areas. A non-standardized test is generally flexible in terms of scope and format, variable in terms of difficulty and significance. Since these tests are usually developed by individual instructors, the format and difficulty of these tests may not be widely adopted or used by other instructors or institutions. A non-standardized test can be used to determine the skill level of students, motivate students to study and provide feedback to students. In some cases, a teacher may develop non-standardized tests that resemble standardized tests in terms of scope, format and difficulty in order to prepare their students for a future standardized test. Finally, the frequency and scope of administration of non-standardized tests are highly variable and are generally limited by the length of the course period. For example, a classroom instructor may administer a test on a weekly basis or only twice a semester. Depending on the instructor’s or institution’s policy, the duration of each test may be as short as five minutes for a full course period. Unlike non-standardized tests, standardized tests are widely used, fixed in terms of scope, difficulty and format, and usually have significant consequences. Standardized tests are generally held on fixed dates, as determined by the test developer, the educational institution or governing body, which may or may not be administered by the instructor, held in class or limited by the class period. Although there is little variability between different copies of the same type of standardized test (for example, SAT or GRE), there is variability between different types of standardized tests. Any test that has significant consequences for the individual test taker is considered a high stakes test. A test may be developed and administered by an instructor, clinician, governing body or test provider. In some cases, the test developer may not be directly responsible for its administration. For example, Educational Testing Service (ETS), a nonprofit educational assessment and testing organization, develops standardized tests such as SAT but can not be directly involved in the administration or supervision of these tests. As with the development and administration of educational tests, the format and level of difficulty of the tests themselves are highly variable and there is no general consensus or standard for formats and difficulty of testing. Often, the format and difficulty of the test depends on the instructor’s educational philosophy, subject, class size, school policy, and the requirements of the accrediting or governing bodies. . In general, tests developed and administered by individual instructors are not standardized while tests developed by test organizations are standardized.

Ancient China was the first country in the world that implemented a nationwide standardized test, which was called the imperial examination. The main purpose of this examination was to select able candidates for specific governmental positions. The imperial examination was established by the Sui dynasty in 605 AD and was later abolished by the Qing dynasty 1300 years later in 1905. England had adopted this examination system in 1806 to select specific candidates for positions in Her Majesty’s Civil Service, modeled on the Chinese imperial examination. This examination system was later applied to education and it started to influence other parts of the world as it became a prominent standard (e.g. regulations to prevent the markers from knowing the identity of candidates), of delivering standardised tests.

As the profession transitioned to the modern mass-education system, the style of examination became fixed, with the stress on standardized papers to be sat by large numbers of students. Leading the way in this regard was the burgeoning Civil Service that began to move toward a meritocratic basis for selection in the mid 19th century in England. British civil service was influenced by the imperial examinations system and meritocratic system of China. Thomas Taylor Meadows, Britain’s consul in Guangzhou, China argued in his Desultory Notes on the Government and People of China, published in 1847, that “the long duration of the Chinese empire is solely and altogether owing to the good government which consists in the advancement of men of talent and merit only,” and that the British must reform their civil service by making the institution meritocratic. As early as in 1806, the Honourable East India Company established a college near London to train and examine administrators of the Company’s territories in India. Examinations for the Indian ‘civil service’- a term coined by the Company – were introduced in 1829. In 1853 the Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, commissioned Sir Stafford Northcote and Charles Trevelyan to look into the operation and organisation of the Civil Service. Influenced by the ancient Chinese Imperial Examination, the Northcote–Trevelyan Report of 1854 made four principal recommendations: that recruitment should be on the basis of merit determined through standardized written examination, that candidates should have a solid general education to enable inter-departmental transfers, that recruits should be graded into a hierarchy and that promotion should be through achievement, rather than ‘preferment, patronage or purchase’. A Civil Service Commission was also set up in 1855 to oversee open recruitment and end patronage, and most of the other Northcote–Trevelyan recommendations were implemented over some years. The Northcote–Trevelyan model of meritocratic examination remained essentially stable for a hundred years. This was a tribute to its success in removing corruption, delivering public services (even under the stress of two world wars), and responding effectively to political change. It also had a great international influence and was adapted by members of the Commonwealth. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act established a similar system in the United States.

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