Tag Archives: standardized testing

When You Have Only One National Test in Your Life, Why Not Start Preparing for It in Style?


Soon-to-be graduates starting their exam preparation month by driving around on a truck while throwing candy to spectators

One distinctive feature about Finnish education is the lack of standardized national tests. The first national test for roughly half of the population is the matriculation examination at the end of upper secondary, approximately at the age of 18-19.

Today (February 16th) is the day when the class of 2017 starts preparing for the exams. In about one month they return to their schools and start taking the tests one day at the time: mathematics, English, humanities, etc. By the end of March they are done and then nervously wait for results, which are due some time in May.

However, studying is for later. Today is about having fun. Festivities (in Finnish called “penkkarit”) started already around noon by driving around town on a truck in funny costumes while throwing candy to passers-by. Then the party continues through the day (and night).

Testing is nothing new to these soon-to-be graduates. They have been taking tests since the very early grades in primary education. It is a common misconception of Finnish education that there are no tests. On the contrary, teachers assess their classes all the time with tests of various kinds.

The important thing is that normally tests are not mandated nor standardized. The teachers just choose to utilize them because they are good teaching tools. They naturally help in assessment and giving grades. In addition, and as importantly, they are good for the actual learning.

For video footage of penkkarit through the years, check here.

Flickr image CC credits: strandhe

Get Children to Improve Rather than to Prove

Yesterday’s Campus Seminar* in Helsinki had a delightful set of speakers, ranging from priests to photographers, from hockey coaches to celebrity vloggers. And everything in between.

The afternoon was kicked off with a great presentation by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson on how we should give feedback to students and what the feedback should be about. The bottom line:

This is an excellent piece of advice yet we act against it every day. I know I do, at least. When my 7 year old daughter perfects a cartwheel I say that she is the best gymnast. Or when she reads a text chapter fine I tell her that she is so good in reading. What I should say, instead, is that she had practiced well, done nice progress from last time, spent her efforts wisely, etc.

Whenever possible, we should concentrate on the process and actions rather than on person’s characteristics. On a related note, we should also focus on improving skills at the expense of proving them. Improving is more about the process, proving about the end result. As Heidi puts it, instead of being good, try to get better.

This brings me to one of my favorite topics, testing. High stakes standardized tests are typically organized solely for checking whether the students have learned the things they were supposed to learn. Whether they can prove that they have learned them.

I am not against testing, not at all. I just prefer the Finnish way of embedding tests in everyday teaching and learning activities rather than having them as monsters looming somewhere at the end of the semester.

When tests are conducted often and as a natural part of lessons, they are actually more about improving than proving. By the way, I was happy to notice this morning that MasteryConnect had just closed a serious funding round. Let’s hope they can bring more ad hoc and less high stakes testing also to the US.

This blog entry was only about the first 15 minutes of yesterday’s event. The whole thing lasted for four hours, so there was a lot more going on. The organizers have to do their absolute best to top this lineup in Warsaw in November!

* My employer Sanoma Pro was a sponsor in this event.