How Relevant are Pen and Paper Practice Tests?

One of the primary characteristics that set PARCC apart from previous types of standardized tests is technology. Students will complete 100% of their test using a computer. This includes mathematics problems where students must show their work, as well as language arts questions where students must write essays. And these exams no longer include only basic multiple choice questions. For the first time, students will need to manipulate the technology by dragging and dropping their answers, selectively highlighting answers, and even using online protractors.

With all this focus on technology, it would seem that pen and paper practice tests will soon be obsolete; however, with these different types of questions, they are more relevant now than ever before.

Multi-step problems, drag and drop scenarios, and using equation editors to explain why solutions are correct are only the vehicle of a larger focus when it comes to new assessment questions. For the first time, many of these students are now responsible for not only selecting a correct answer or solution, but also defending that selection. This is a processing task many of our students may not be familiar with.

In this modern day of technology, our children are usually more tech-savvy than the adults in their lives. If they do not already know how to make a choice from a drop-down menu, or drag and drop from one location to another, they can typically figure it out fairly quickly. But, learning to process the information in a passage or question in such a meaningful way they can defend an answer is a skill student may not be familiar with. This is where pen and paper tasks become crucial.

Creating scenarios where students can practice the content of the test is fundamental to any test preparation, and the new types of questions should not be exempt from this. But schools often do not have the technological resources for the students to consistently practice in an online setting. Using workbooks that mimic the content of the test offers students the opportunity to practice this new way of processing questions. While they may not physically drag and drop the answer, they can select the sentence that best supports their answer and write it in the box below. Or, they can choose the correct answer in an algebra problem and explain how they arrived at that solution in a separate text box.

The method may vary slightly from problem to problem, but the fundamental aspect of test practice does not. Students should be exposed to the different types of problems they will experience so they can begin to train their brain to think in these new and different ways. Traditional pen and paper tasks can still allow for this, provided they are aligned to new testing guidelines.