by Rav Moshe Karp
School Testing: Ways and Means of Implementation
It is customary in various chadorim for the
menahel to test grades four through eight in
gemora, alternately. I would like to offer to the
general public some of my observations, and conclusions drawn
from personal experience.
Over the years, we have tried different methods of testing,
each with its advantages and disadvantages, until we finally
arrived at the one method of examination which appears to be
the best one for the menahel in the classroom. In
other words, by this method, a principal can evaluate the
general knowledge of the class, as well as the individual
accomplishment of each student, and at the same time have the
entire class participate in the test. In addition, the
student will emerge from the test knowing more than he did
The Individual Test
At first, the test was handled as follows: A student was
asked to read a portion of the text and explain it. As he was
reading and explaining, questions were asked on the topic.
This form was the best one for the student as an individual
since it included correct reading as well as reading
comprehension. It tested his straight logical understanding
and included questions to sharpen his thinking etc. The
drawback of this method was its difficulty in implementation
within a classroom setting, since the rest of the students
quickly got bored while their comrade was being tested. It
was tried to skip from student to student and thus keep them
all alert, but this method did not work well since the
students were barely able to hear their peer reading the text
and follow his words.
When this proved unsatisfactory, we tried the classic method
of oral testing. Questions were thrown at the class and the
students, without any determined order, were called upon to
From the very beginning, it became apparent what we could
have known from the very onset: some students knew the
material well while others didn't. Those who were fluent,
were proud to show off their knowledge, while those who
weren't, were distressed by their ignorance. In fact, those
who did not know the answers were hurt and frustrated to the
core by having their ignorance revealed in public.
Since it is of paramount importance to avoid embarrassing a
student in public, we stopped calling upon the students who
did not raise their hand and only asked those who did. All
those who did not know the answers, thought they didn't know
the answer, or were embarrassed to be exposed and take the
risk, did not raise their hands and were not called on. But
not everyone who raised a hand knew the answer, either.
The conclusion arrived at was that an oral exam only showed
in a general way what the teacher had taught, for what he
hadn't taught -- a student could not very well know. "If
Rebbi did not teach, from whence could R' Chiya know?"
The test also indicated the knowledge of part of the students
-- of those who raised their hands, were called upon, and
knew the material. But this relates to one, two or at the
most, three questions.
In summary: the oral test does not reflect the
accomplishments of all those who did not raise their hands,
nor of those who did but were not called upon. Perhaps some
educators might suffice with the questions in getting a
general picture of the weekly coverage, but if one wished to
evaluate the learning of each student in the weekly
curriculum, an oral exam failed to indicate it.
The Written Test
After all this, we went over to the written test. Every
student received ten questions. This method proved to be the
most effective. The entire class participated and was kept
occupied. All of them had the identical questions and they
couldn't bluff their way through. Either an answer was right
or wrong. A written exam is the best way to get a good
picture of the scholastic level of each student.
In these tests, we tried not to ask shakla vetaryo
questions requiring knowledge of the flow of the argument, in
other words, what Tana ploni maintained, how the
gemora challenged his position, and how it resolved
it. We assume that the teacher already asked questions of
this nature, both orally and in written form.
Therefore the questions asked were such that the student was
required to exercise his imagination. For example: in the
case of there being a controversy in a law, we asked about a
situation similar to that presented in the gemora. The
litigants presented their case in two botei din and
received two different answers. The question was, who were
the sages of the respective courts, why they ruled
differently, and upon what was their decision based.
Or: where there was no controversy, only different laws in
circumstances that differed somewhat one from the other, the
question centered on the two circumstances in which the
rulings handed down were different. Why was one case ruled
one way while the other one was judged differently? Upon what
were the varying decisions based? Or questions that were not
asked explicitly but were concluded from what seemed
logically correct, and the like.
The Test and its Answers
And here were added the answers to the written test. How?
A student who finished answering the questions received a
separate sheet with the correct answers on it. He was able to
examine whether his answers were correct or not. He was also
required to mark each question and give himself an overall
He marked his own test, and in the event that there was a
question which he did not know, he was able to complete the
missing answers according to the answer sheet.
The test was then given over to an outsider to examine; he
reviewed the test and gave his own mark.
The advantage in supplying the student with the answer and
having him mark it himself is double: First, he feels he has
risen to the level of examiner, which is certainly higher
than merely that of a student being tested. Second, he is
required to draw a comparison between the answer he wrote and
the correct answer, which is an additional stage in the
Aside from this, the student who receives the correct answers
emerges from the test knowing them, has gained by the test in
that he has learned the answers to the questions he did not
know. So this kind of test incorporates the dimension of
learning. If an exam conducted in the proper way constitutes
a summary of the sugya then, together with the
answers, the student now knows it thoroughly and is ready to
go on to a new sugya.
Another advantage is the feeling this student gets that the
exam does not only serve to test his knowledge but it teaches
him the great importance of knowing the material, and not
going on to new material before he has fully grasped the
In this manner, one enables the weaker students who did not
succeed in getting the answer right to open up the
gemora and look for the answer. An answer of this sort
is marked by the student himself with a peh,
signifying potuach, open, and the mark is accordingly
This way, however, the student knows that there is something
more important than the test itself, and that is the
knowledge of the material. No one remains ignorant of what
has been learned in this manner.
An additional approach to the test, tried in particular in
the seventh and eighth grades, was the self examination.
The student is told to open up the gemora and prepare
ten questions and answers upon the sugya learned that
This tests the student's ability to see the subject in its
full scope and to prepare the questions and answers by
Before such a test, the students are given an introduction
telling them what kind of questions to ask. He is expected to
avoid questions of give-and-take, like what the
amoraim say, what the gemora asks and what it
replies. He must try to change the form of questions, to
generalize and not stick strictly to the text.
The marks were divided into three categories. A wrong
question = 0, a question on give-and-take = 7 and the rest,
10 points apiece.
The self test did a lot to boost a student's sense of
accomplishment, since it transferred him from the category of
receiving to one of creating -- he prepared the questions and
answers by himself.
In certain cases, the test was divided into two. For the
first part, the students prepared the questions themselves,
while in the second half, they had to answer questions
prepared for them. In these cases, parallel or overlapping
questions came up. The student prepared questions similar to
those prepared for him by the examiner, and the general level
of knowledge rose considerably and the answers on the tests
which he was given greatly improved.
A Chabura (Essay) Exam
An additional type of exam that was tried temporarily in the
eighth grade is the chabura or essay exam.
The examiner prepares an entire structured treatise composed
of shitas rishonim, a dissection of their controversy,
the questions asked by acharonim and their replies,
and so on. The student receives a sheet upon which appears
the question. For example:
The Rambam's approach;
The Raavad's approach:
The challenge of the Maggid Mishneh:
The reply of the Lechem Mishneh:
The challenge of the Shaagas Arye:
And so on. The student must fill in the blanks and explain
the various approaches, questions and resolutions.
He is expected to know the approaches of the Rambam and
Raavad from a separate sheet he receives upon which is
photostated excerpts from their works. He is required to
clarify their approaches, questions or answers.
This is how the student is expected to round out his
knowledge, excerpt after excerpt, until he has prepared for
himself an entire treatise on the subject.
The advantages of this type of exam are many. 1) The eighth
grade student has succeeded in preparing a chabura. 2)
The student has reviewed an excerpt from the rishonim
or acharonim by himself and grappled with their
language and style. He has understood their question or
answer, which sometimes are derived from the positive to the
negative or vice versa. 3) The student has single-handedly
learned a topic that was not covered in class by his
This is a marvelous sense of accomplishment for the student,
especially for those who are able to complete this exam in
After they have completed the exam, the student receives the
complete chabura and is able to check it against his
own work and give himself a mark.
These are, in short, the different types of exams that we
employ in Talmud Torah Or Mordechai, and whosoever wishes to
try it is welcome to do so.
HaRav Moshe Karp is menahel of Talmud Torah Or
Mordechai, Bnei Brak
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