Information Technology and trends in standardised testing for tertiary placement

Educated citizens are considered to be the critical ingredient of a successful democracy the world over. This explains why countries have designed an elaborate educational system at all levels (primary, secondary, tertiary, etc.) to provide citizens with education. In most countries, primary education begins at age six (6) for about six years before transitioning to some form of junior high school.

This enables those enrolled to acquire basic educational skills. Basic Compulsory education in most countries end at this level. After completing this level of education, students may enter secondary school or acquire technical or vocational skills.

This level of education is optional in most countries and has to be generally paid for. Few countries (e.g., Ghana) offer free tuition for those attending public Senior High School.

Entry is contingent upon passing some form of standardised examination administered by a centralised body. For example, in most of West Africa, students sit for the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE).

Secondary education is called different names in different cultures. Some countries call it high schools, gymnasiums, lyceums, middle schools, colleges, vocational schools and preparatory schools. In the United States and Canada, secondary education is administered as one big organisation, usually referred to as K-12.”

Regardless of the name and format, the purpose of secondary education is to prepare students for higher education or vocational schooling. Secondary education is terminal and preparatory. Thus, it is recognised as the cornerstone of educational systems in the 21st century.

One end product of secondary education is assessment or testing. This is a normal process of academic life and everyday life as well. To excel, one has to prepare for a test or examination.

To aid in the process, individuals and institutions have developed test preparation materials. They often come in different forms such as exams simulation, mock examination, etc.

A number of standardised tests have been developed to assist in placing students at various levels of the educational spectrum and occupational ladder.

In the United States (US), for example, the College Board manages several standardised examinations.

Among the prominent ones are The Scholastic Assessment Test (a standardised test for college admissions in the US);  The Advanced Placement Program (AP) (enables high school students to take college-level courses and earn college credit or advanced placement); The Test of English as a Foreign Language (evaluates the potential success of an individual to use and understand standardised American English); The Graduate Record Examination (required by most graduate schools in the US in making funding decisions); The Graduate Management Admission Test (the most popular test used to screen applicants to an MBA program); The Law School Admission Test (administered by the Law School Admission Council, for students applying for entrance to law school).

Others are The Miller Analogy Test, taken by candidates applying to graduate schools; The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a programme of the Association of American Medical Colleges and used by medical schools as part of their admission process;  The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), used by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to measure the competencies of registered nurses and practical nurses; and The Praxis exams, an initial teacher certification test used for teacher certification in specific subject areas.

A good pass in any of the above tests is regarded to be a good predictor of academic success in college or graduate school. Together with one’s Grade Point Average (G.PA) or weighted score, students may gain admission to their college of choice.

Fact is, there is no centralised body responsible for administering questions based on individual core subjects as we see in West Africa. Instead, a number of specialised agencies have emerged to assist students in test preparation.

For example, Kaplan is one of the global leading institutions in test preparation and has assisted millions of students prepare to take the tests necessary to achieve their education and career goals.

They offer complete preparation for entrance exams for secondary school, college, graduate school as well as English language and professional licensing exams. Institutions like Kaplan offer educational resources that students or candidates  can use as they begin the test preparation process.

West Africa need to develop its own version of Kaplan. And, over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the emergence of institutions specialising in test preparation. Such institutions assist students with test preparation for overseas placement.

We need to shift and reorient the focus and energies of such institutions to enable scores in standardised testing be the primary criteria for admission into tertiary institutions in West Africa.

Times have changed. Institutions like the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC), the leading accredited body responsible for conducting examination at the Senior High School level have played their role in spearheading and streamlining the examination process. However, with changing educational and technological trends, the emphasis has to shift to standardised testing than empowering regional examination bodies to conduct subject based examinations.

Today, the world has moved from location-based education to a form of open educational systems. And, we have institutions such as Stanford and MIT leading the initiative.

This trend is likely to continue and educational institutions in Africa have to be part of this new educational trend.

Standardised testing is here to stay and play a major role in education today. Achievement tests measuring subject-specific knowledge and aptitude tests measuring scholastic readiness have emerged to provide a yardstick to evaluate student performance.

And recently, computerised testing have emerged where testing can be scored almost immediately via the Internet, and the results can be available instantly.

The era of waiting for months to get test results is history. Thus, moving away from the Basic Education Certificate Examination for Junior Secondary Schools (BECCE) and the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and emphasising more on standardised testing which is now the global norm is the direction to go.


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