Saturday, October 29, 2016

Teaching to the test – maybe not a bad idea?

Guest Blogger: David Royer

No, I am not advocating for more standardized testing or teaching to the test in K-12, but I am searching for ways in which we can help our students prepare for the challenge of achieving a competitive score on the standardized exams that are required for admission to graduate and professional schools.  These include the LSAT, MCAT, DAT and GRE.  Most of my experience is with the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and it is frustrating when a student with an outstanding academic record at Lincoln has an average or below average score.  This disconnect becomes a major obstacle to gaining admission to medical school for our students.  The MCAT is the one common element in every student’s application to medical school; they all take the same test, and medical schools can compare all applicants using this test.  These test scores become particularly important when one of our students applies to a medical school that has never had a Lincoln student or does not know anything about Lincoln. 
From talking to other faculty members, this issue is not restricted to the MCAT
This leads to the question of why the disconnect between MCAT scores and GPA?  I do not have all the answers but one reason is that the test is unlike anything our students have seen before for many reasons.  First, it is a long exam; not counting the breaks, the exam lasts six hours and fifteen minutes; there is one 30-minute break and two 10-minute breaks, all of which are optional.  Second, the exam requires strong reading skills.  As an example, the section on the Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems includes ten passage-based sets of questions with four to six questions per passage.  There are also fifteen independent questions.  The total is 59 questions that must be answered in 95 minutes.  Last, the breadth of the exam is very wide as it includes biology, chemistry, physics, biochemistry, psychology and sociology, the latter two included in a new section that was added to the MCAT  in 2015.
From talking to other faculty members, this issue is not restricted to the MCAT so the question I am posing through this blog is what can we do differently in the classroom to better prepare out students for these exams, and yes, I am suggesting that we do a bit of teaching to the test.  While I agree with most parents and teachers that it is inappropriate in K-12 classrooms, I believe that there must be some things we can do in the college classroom that will improve out students’ scores on these standardized exams without compromising the content of our courses which is also important for strong performances on the exams.
What do you suggest?


  1. Here, it seems to me, is an argument for teaching to the test, at least, in more than 50% of the course. How about teaching to the test, at least, in more than 50% of the course?

    Safro Kwame

  2. Another option is to have MCAT, LSAT etc credit bearing prep courses that are part of a pre-med, pre-law or other educational track. The courses could be one or two credits and should focus on test taking skills and give the students lots of access to old copies of these types of exams. Of course, this doesn't preclude that we as faculty members also mimc these types of standardized exams in some of our courses that are populated by pre-med, or other pre-professional school students.