Understanding Testing

Testing is standard practice in most educational context. A teacher needs a way to determine what level of knowledge the students currently have or have gained through the learning experience. However, identifying what testing is and is not has not always been clear.

In this post, we will look at exactly what testing as. In general, testing is a way of measuring a person’s ability and or knowledge in a given are of study. Specifically, there are five key characteristics of a test, and they are…

  • Systematic
  • Quantifiable
  • Individualistic
  • Competence
  • Domain specific


A test must be well organized and structured. For example, the multiple choice are in one section while the short answers are in a different section. If an essay is required there is a rubric for grading. Directions for all sections are in the test to explain the expectations to the students.

This is not as easy or as obvious as some may believe. Developing a test takes a great deal of planning for the actual creation of the test.


Test are intended to measure something. A test can measure general knowledge such as proficiency test of English or a test can be specific such as a test that only looks at vocabulary memorization. Either way, it is important for both the student and teacher to know what is being measured.

Another obvious but sometimes mistake by test makers is the reporting of results. How many points each section and even each question is important for students to know when taking a test. This information is also critical for the person who is responsible for grading the tests.


Test are primarily designed to assess a student’s individual knowledge/performance. This is a Western concept of the responsibility of a person to have an individual expertise in a field of knowledge.

There are examples of groups working together on tests. However, group work is normally left to projects and not formal modes of assessment such as testing.


As has already been alluded too, tests assess competence either through the knowledge a person has about a subject or their performance doing something. For example, a vocabulary test assesses knowledge of words while a speaking test would assess a person ability to use words or their performance.

Generally, a test is either knowledge or performance based.  it is possible to blend the two, however, mixing styles raises the complexity not only for the student but also for the person who s responsible for marking the results.

Domain Specific

A test needs to be focused on a specific area of knowledge. A language test is specific to language as an example. A teacher needs to know in what specific area they are trying to assess students knowledge/performance. This not always easy to define as not only are there domains but sub-domains and many other ways to divide up the information in a given course.

Therefore, a teacher needs to identify what students need to know as well as what they should know and assess this information when developing a test. This helps to focus the test on relevant content for the students.


There is art and science to testing. There is no simple solution to how to setup tests to help students. However, the five concepts here provides a framework that can help a teacher to get started in developing tests.

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