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Assessment | Test Prep

Pros & Cons of Teaching to the Test in CTE

July 9th, 2019 | 6 min. read

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For students in any grade level and any state, taking tests (and doing well on them) is an expectation. Between unit tests, final exams, and standardized assessments, the pressure is on to do well.

In career and technical education (CTE), the pressure is even higher.

After all, students in CTE programs have a specific career path in mind, and many of those careers require certifications you can only obtain by passing an exam.

That’s why CTE teachers consider teaching to the test to set their students up for success on exam day!

Some teachers only consider the pros of teaching the test without weighing the cons.

Other teachers are so against teaching to the test that they try to avoid it at all costs!

So what exactly are the pros and cons of teaching to the test in CTE programs?

In this blog, we’ll answer just that!

But first, it’s important to define what we mean by the phrase “teaching to the test.”

Video: Pros and Cons of Teaching to The Test


What Is “Teaching to the Test?”

Teaching to the test means basing all of your instructional materials on example questions and concepts that are on a test, without deviating from those items.

In some cases, teaching to the test is called “item teaching” since it’s focused on teaching specific items found on the test.

Now that we’re on the same page with what it means to teach to the test, let’s get started!

3 Pros of Teaching to the Test


Overall, we’ve found three benefits that CTE teachers and students experience when the class is focused on teaching to the test:

  1. You can easily plan your curriculum
  2. Students will be ready for their certification exams
  3. Students know what’s on the test

1. Teaching to the Test Makes It Easy to Plan Your Course

For CTE teachers, one of the most painstaking tasks is planning a course syllabus.

If you’re planning to teach to the test, you just made that task a whole lot easier!

All you’d need to do is get the exam outline or test plan from the certification test provider, and that acts as your template to create an entire class.

Then, you can use that as a guide to plan out which topics you’ll teach each week.

That’s much easier than picking and choosing different topics to cover and hoping that they align to an exam!

2. Teaching to the Test Gets Students Ready for Certifications

If your students are taking certification exams at the end of your CTE course, teaching to the test is the most direct way of preparing them.

Many CTE certification providers have practice tests and other test prep materials that can help you determine what your students need to know.

If you do your research and find out exactly what to teach (and what you can skip), your students will be ready by the time test day comes around!

3. Teaching to the Test Provides Clarity for Students

When it comes to summative assessments, students always ask “will this be on the test?

If every bit of information you’re teaching is based on the certification exam, your answer is simple -- yes!

With a one-word answer, you’re removing a common, repeated question in your day-to-day class.

Rather than trying to figure out what might be on the test and what won’t, your students will be able to focus on learning what you’re teaching!

Now that we’ve shared the three biggest benefits of teaching to the test, it’s time to discuss the cons.

3 Cons of Teaching to the Test


Though there are a number of cons of teaching to the test, we’ve found three that specifically impact CTE programs:

  1. Students are more likely to cheat
  2. Students memorize answers instead of learning information
  3. Students may miss out on learning crucial concepts and skills

1. Teaching to the Test Can Lead to Cheating in the Classroom

Teaching to the test is one of the biggest reasons students cheat in school.

The high-stakes pressure that CTE students feel to pass their certification exams gets worse if your entire course is strictly focused on test day.

This pressure (and fear of failure) can make even your most engaged, excited students consider cheating, just to make sure they get a passing score.

2. Teaching to the Test Prevents Long-Term Retention of Information

Teaching to the test can help students do better on their exams, but it often results in students learning based on memorization instead of practice or critical thinking.

While it’s important for students to memorize certain items like medical terminology, students also need to know how to carry out processes, use technology, and solve problems.

If students are learning just to pass the test, you’ll most likely do them a disservice by preventing them from applying all of the information that they’ve memorized.

This can be a huge problem for students. They may pass a certification exam, but they’ll end up re-learning a lot of information on the job after they’re hired!

That can start them off on the wrong foot with an employer and depending on the nature of their work (like healthcare), it could even cost lives.

As a result, this is one of the biggest reasons CTE instructors choose not to teach to the test

3. Teaching to the Test Can Lead to Information Being Skipped

If you’re focused on using the test plan or practice exams as a guide for teaching your classes, you could accidentally miss key, relevant information in your lessons.

For example, if you strictly teach the six hands-on skills your students need to know for the NOCTI Medical Assisting exam, your students will be able to do those skills easily.

But medical assistants need to know how to do more than just those six skills!

By teaching to the test, you’re accidentally inhibiting your students’ career development.

Students who’ve had a more well-rounded education will be more likely to be hired than those who only learned six skills that appease an exam.

This type of scenario applies to any CTE student being taught to the test -- no matter which career cluster or pathway they choose!

With these three pros and cons, there’s still one last question to answer -- should you teach to the test?

Should You Teach to the Test?


CTE teachers have the most success when they strike a good balance between teaching test prep and using a non-test related curriculum.

After all, to be successful in their careers, your students need to obtain their certification plus understand and perform other related tasks.

To accomplish this, some teachers rely heavily on test prep materials like study guides, practice tests, and other resources.

Others find more success by using digital curriculum as their main instructional material, with test prep as a supplement.

Wondering which one is right for you and your students?

Click below to read an in-depth comparison of seven differences between digital curriculum and CTE test prep materials!
Learn About the Differences Between Digital Curriculum & Test Prep!