Essay tests are dreaded in high schools and colleges across the U.S. It is a classroom assessment that gauges student knowledge by the lengthy answer of one or more questions. Essay tests have a few questions on which the entire test grade relies. Students who excel at written assessments welcome the essay test. Other students find more than one disadvantage of the test.
Eyes of the Beholder
Essay exams are graded by human eyes and intellect, leaving lots of room for human error. The instructor must be able to accurately interpret the words that the student chose. This is done while attempting to separate the student from the test form being graded. However, the instructors prejudices concerning a problematic student or a struggling one will ultimately intrude upon the grading process, especially since the essay grading heavily relies on the teacher’s interpretation of the student’s essay. Furthermore, interpretations aren’t always understood accurately.
Tunnel Vision Testing
The essay can’t help but test part of the lessons covered in the classroom. No matter how creative the questions may be, a handful is not enough to perform a survey of knowledge. As a result, the students get a kind of testing tunnel vision that threatens to dislodge the information gather in the weeks prior to the exam. Some instructors try to offset this by keeping the essay questions secret until test day. The students do have to study all of the material covered in class, but on a small part of it is reinforced on the test.
More Work for Teacher
Time is one of the most well known disadvantages of essay testing. Instructors must read every essay, grading the content and composition, while making a judgment on how thorough the answer is. This painstaking process creates hours of grading. The exact number depends on the grader. Students usually wait a few days or more to receive essay test scores. Meanwhile, multiple-choice tests are concrete. The tests are graded by hand using an answer key or using the famous Scantron system. The students complete special Scantron test answer sheets during the test. Instructors submit the test answers and then feed the answer sheets into a machine and graded electronically. The Scantron Corporation states that 30 to 40 answer sheets are graded per minute. Even multiple choice questions graded manually are returned within 24 hours of the test.
The concept of an essay test places more pressure on the student prior to the test than other forms. The uncertainty of which material will be tested is another issue. It adds to the usual testing anxiety that students feel prior to test day. Another uncertainty is the ability to recall the correct material. Instructors try to mitigate the anxiety by issuing study guides and steering students away from the material that isn’t on the test. However, only so much can be done to minimize the anxiety without giving away the test questions.
Jonita Davis is freelance writer and marketing consultant. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including "The LaPorte County Herald Argus" and Work.com. Davis also authored the book, "Michigan City Marinas," which covers the history of the Michigan City Port Authority. Davis holds a bachelor's degree in English from Purdue University.