Testing, testing, testing – what is more important the test or the content?

I’ve have just finished reading a book at the British Cycling team and their meteoric rise over the past 10 years. As a keen cyclist the book provides a number of insights into how the team operated. There is one section in particular that raised a number of questions.

Sir Chris Hoy started to compete in an event called the Keirin several years ago when the Kilo event was removed from the Olympics. For those of you who have caught a bit of track cycling on the TV it’s the one where they all ride behind a motorbike at increasingly high speeds. The cycling aficionados amongst you will know that Keirin originates from Japan and is remains hugely popular. Kieran riders earn vast sums and enjoy celebrity status due to the massive amounts that are bet on the outcome of races. Increasingly overseas riders saw the money on offer and wanted to compete in Japan, to date without a great deal of success. Before any overseas rider can compete in a Japanese event they have to undertake a rigorous 2 week training camp, where one of the tasks involves taking a bike to pieces without dropping a tool and re-assembling it in a set order.

At the end of the 2 week course there is a test. Pass the test and you can ride in events, fail and you can’t. Simple.

It was the test aspect of the course that interested me the most. One of the cyclists commented on the monotony of the course and the sheer basic nature of the course content…but…he remained ‘switched on’ at all times as if you didn’t pass the test you couldn’t ride. The rider attended all of the sessions, took everything on board, put up with the monotony to ensure that he was ready for the test. He took the test, passed and rode in events.

Reading this particular chapter really made me think of all the courses where the qualification is vital to future success and progress but the learning experience is often disappointing for those involved. I’ve spoken to my friends who have attended courses that have not been challenging and focused purely on getting the badge. I’ve also got my own experience to share. Over 5 years ago I took my PRINCE 2 exams; the first 2 days pretty much consisted of highlighting pages from the course book. I was somewhat disillusioned by this and in the revision periods at the end of the day I actually tried to gain a deeper understanding of what the course was about. It was only at the first multiple choice exam that I realised what I was being prepared for. Each of the sections I had highlighted had been linked to potential answers in the multiple choice exam. Once this was passed the whole teaching style changed as we approached an open book written exam. I’d not thought about this course until after I’d finished reading the Keirin chapter and it all came back to me!

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Testing, testing, testing – what is more important the test or the content?

One Response

  1. That’s a very interesting point. I work in Higher Education and have also been teaching Archery for many years, so I can appreciate the relevance of this example. Taking a bike to pieces without dropping a tool is not a test of the specific skills of the Keirin race, but I can see how it would test the participants concentration and ability to operate within strict rules, which I would imagine are very important skills for the race, especially with several judges watching each race for minor infringements of very strict rules.

    This can be a big problem for educators in any environment. It’s often easy for students to see the external skills required for a specific task, (ie follow the pacer around the track, stay with it, then sprint to the finish), but not so easy to appreciate those more subtle skills (pacing yourself, reacting to the increasing speed of the pacer at the correct moment in each race).

    But it is those subtle skills which can win the race, and for students, make all the difference in their performance after the test itself. I have spent a lot of time explaining explicitly, why I have set a specific task which may not directly relate to external skills, but help develop more relevant subtle skills, usually analysis and problem solving skills. Most students eventually understand once they have been through the process once and realised what an impact those subtle skills could have had, but there are always a few who get fixated on those external skills. It’s a difficult barrier.

    In this example, perhaps if the participants were made to understand the purpose of the content, the test itself would become important?

    Steve Harris September 8, 2009 at 8:59 am #

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