Here at Pres we decided to debate whether or not time limits on tests are useful. It’s an integral part in many of our classes but a topic that is never necessarily discussed. There are both good and bad sides to timed testing, and in the end it just depends on what works best for you. 

It’s About Time

By Erika Ackley

We’ve all been there before. You walk into a test with sweaty palms and a stomach twisted in knots. Your constant glances at the clock reveal your dwindling time. You’re trying your best to keep your nerves under control but the dread of not finishing in time looms over you and it becomes increasingly harder to focus on the task at hand: the test. You know that if you just had more time, you could finish.

The main issue here isn’t the test itself or how well you know the information (okay, maybe) but the fact that there’s a time limit. And with that time limit comes the impending what if you don’t finish in time?

Time limits on tests have morphed into this overbearing pressure that weighs heavily on students. And when the stress invades your mind, you struggle to focus and the rest of the test only goes downhill from there.

The problem isn’t whether or not a student needs to apply for legal accommodations. This is about the fact that time limits with testing can create a mental block of anxiety and fear inside of anyone, which adds additional struggle when taking a test.  

Sometimes it’s just knowing that there is ample time, rather than having to rush, that eases the process immensely.

When taking a test, the brain draws from working memory. Working memory is defined as a type of short-term memory that has to do with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing. Long definition short, it’s where all of our information is when we’re taking a test.

According to an article published by Mathnasium, the anxiety surrounding time limits can in fact impair the working memory in your brain. “When people are stressed, the pressure blocks their working memory and facts with which people are familiar cannot be recalled.”

So essentially, that clock ticking away while you’re taking your test is only making it harder for you to concentrate and remember all the necessary information.

You’re probably thinking that for most tests, you have the entire period, and more often than not, you finish well before the bell rings and won’t have to worry about the time.  

And yes, that is the case most of the time. Obviously tests can vary in structures from class to class and teacher to teacher, and sometimes it can take the entire period. For a test that you shouldn’t be spending the whole period on, a time limit can come in handy.

Teachers have lesson plans to follow and there is only a certain amount of class periods in a given semester. So it’s only natural that some quizzes and tests are designed to be finished in a certain amount of time so that class time can be properly maximized.

But what about those tests in which you know that you need to be allowed more time on? The tests where the teacher calls time and more than half the class is still frantically working away?

In these cases, the effects of time limits are taxing, especially when a teacher begins to take off points when the test is turned in after time is called.

And for those students who are consistently finishing after the majority of the class, it might be time to look into the what might be causing this delay. You may need extra time on tests, and obtaining legal accommodations is perfectly okay.

All in all, a time limit might seem as a bit of a necessary evil when it comes to needing things to be finished in time. But given the effects that a ticking clock has on your memory and concentration, it may be just plain evil.

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Timed Out

By Anna Roth

We’ve all been there: it’s the last three minutes of a test and you’re furiously scribbling the last two paragraphs of your essay in some form of legibility while trying to make it at least sound intelligible. It is at this moment that every student curses the fabric of time and simultaneously curses the teacher for putting a time limit on the exam.

But time limits are an overall benefit to a student’s ability to manage their time. A time restriction to an exam is a tactic meant to add to its challenge. A test is a measure of a person’s proficiency in a certain skill, and as an extension of that measure, a time limit seeks to meter a student’s ability to demonstrate competence effectively within a controlled environment.

Tests are generally controlled through three elements: subject matter difficulty, question type, and time allotted. Teachers know how to craft a test to both cater to and challenge a student’s ability because it is in their job title to do so.

For the most part, tests are written with all three elements in balance to set an environment the teacher, through ample education and experience, has deemed appropriate and rigorous enough for the student.

Time limits are not set to make an exam more difficult but instead bring symmetry into the makeup of a test and show respect to the student because they demonstrate confidence in the student’s academic rigor and preparation.

Additionally, a 2004 study done by the Educational Testing Service found that extra time given to students had virtually no effect on the student’s results, even when given a varying degree of difficulty and difference of topic.

“For most of the students, the effects of the extra ten minutes was small,” the study’s results section stated. “The largest effect was associated with a difference in difficulty between the two topics used and not in time allotted.”

Granted, there are students with documented learning difficulties of their own that complicate their ability to complete the exam, but Presentation has a set system for granting extra time for the students who need it.

An opponent of timed exams may argue that the time limit imposes too much pressure on the student. I would counter that jobs and real-world tasks require deadlines and the time management that time limits teach to students. It’s how students learn to get stuff done and training them for being a real world adult.

In some cases the time limits fail when students are unable to complete the test in time allotted. Of course, if the time limit or class period has ended and half the students are still working, then the teacher needs to re evaluate the amount of time or difficulty of the test. But there will always be those perfectionist students in class who will take an entire period for a 20-minute quiz if the teacher lets them. This takes time away from teachers’ planned lessons and puts the class behind.

As a whole, a set time limit for exams honors a student’s preparation, prepares them for jobs, and allows teachers to better manage their curriculum. The point of education is to structure and train students,  and time limits are a vital part of that process.

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