Testing Everyday Knowledge

Let's consider what one has to do in order to get a driver's license. The driver's license exam consist of two sections: a driving test and a written test. The driving test is usually pretty simple. It typically requires the applicant to negotiate the car through an obstacle course at speeds somewhat under what the typical driver achieves before getting out of the driveway. The harder section is the written exam. The written exam tests how well the driver can call to mind details about the rules of the road. One of the questions I was asked when I last applied to renew my motorcycle license, was whether a horn must be able to be heard from a) 100 feet; b) 200 feet; c) 50 feet; or d) 150 feet. (The answer, incidentally, is 200 feet.) Another question asked whether it is necessary to push on the inside of the handlegrip in order to turn quickly. Other questions were similar. How relevant are such questions to the skill of driving?

The written driver's test is just an exercise in meaningless memorization, as are most such tests. The odd point here is that even when a skill can be tested in the normal way, by seeing if the student can actually do it, we still rely on good old multiple choice tests, simply out of habit. An experienced driver does not have to brush up on the driving part of the test when he changes residence and needs to get a new license, because he knows that he knows how to drive. But he has to memorize the booklet the state gives out, as if he were reading the material for the first time, because the objective knowledge contained within it is so irrelevant to what he knows about driving.

The sad part is that the schools have outdone the motor vehicle bureaus. They have eliminated any testing of doing at all. All they have left are the multiple-choice tests of stuff no one ever needs to know.

Next Story Multiple Choice Tests

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