The Art of Not-Really-Knowing

14 09 2011
Student preparing for exams

Student preparing for exams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh yeah, we’ve all done it. The class we’re taking is ok, but we don’t really care about it. Sure the teacher told us we should start studying for the massive test early. He said that if we did all the readings and we did all the note-taking in class, the study guide should be easy. But after his first test that took all hour to finish, this upcoming test doesn’t look easy. Especially since we didn’t do the reading. Really, did we actually need to do that reading? I mean, the next day he lectures or gives us a study sheet on the pages we were supposed to read, so why read at all, right? Right? But the test is in two days and even he says it’s going to be a monster. Looks like we’ll be pulling an all-nighter like usual to keep the GPA up to par. Yes, I know I’ll pass the test and quickly forget the information once I leave the room. But all I really need, or care about, is the grade.

Sound familiar? Yeah. We’ve done it. We’ve been the student who crammed to pass the test. Some of us are even quite proud of the ability to do no work at all, yet study for a short bit before the test and pull a passable grade.

But in reality, the ability of a student to “cram” for an exam is an indicator that the student has worked with too many tests or quizzes “crammed” with too much information and facts. These types of exams simply call for regurgitation of the information and didn’t ask the student for enough real world application of that knowledge, skill, or true understanding. If they had, cramming wouldn’t be an option and students wouldn’t become so skilled at it.

What’s the point of our tests and exams anyway? Are they simply hoops to jump or do we want to truly know what the students have gathered from our classes?

Cramming is a current schooly-school skill that many teachers force their students to practice in order to “achieve” a score that sets the student up to be considered smart and educated. We laude (summa cum and magna cum) those who do it well.

Cramming is a skill that high school teachers secretly feel is important and will be needed in college.

A quality teacher should be insulted by students cramming to pass their tests, since it’s an indicator of poor teaching habits, being carried over to poor learning habits. It’s an action whereby students tell you that they’re not engaged with the information you’re sharing with them. They’re looking to pass a test, not learn. Their actions are telling you they simply don’t care about the information. They only care about the score.

Sadly, so do many teachers.

Are students cramming to pass your tests? If so, you might resist the urge to blame the student. Look at your own practices. What can you do differently which will require the students to interact with the information? What can you do to get them to internalize the learning?

How can you get your students to see the need to develop the skills your content area offers instead of the need to memorize only the facts?

You’re in charge. You make the change. Making your test more rigorous by packing in more facts simply won’t do it.

Unless, of course, you’re asking students to practice the art of not really knowing.

___________________________________

Personal addendum: 

Cramming. Yep. I’m good at it. It got me on to the honor roll at two different high schools and it earned me a couple of large scholarships. It also got me through my BSE, and my Master’s Comprehensive exams. 

It also got me to the point of not really knowing the information I was supposed to learn.

Thankfully, the actual Master’s classes I took were quality. In essence, we couldn’t cram to prepare ourselves. We either knew the information and could demonstrate we knew it, or we didn’t and couldn’t.

But beyond my experiences of school, I have to know my stuff. I have to know how to DO things.

Cramming isn’t an option. Ever.

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