As a university faculty member, I feel that my job is to help my students prepare for a successful career. I want my students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. That is one of the reasons that I do NOT give students practice tests and I don’t BELIEVE in giving practice tests.
Don’t get me wrong—I am a firm believer in practicing. In all of my classes, they are assigned homework, which is practice for learning the concepts. I sometimes give review sheets or practice problems before tests. However, those practice problems will never be the same or even similar to the ones on the exam itself. Why? I want my students to learn to think and to solve problems on their own. It isn’t about memorizing a certain type of problem and how to solve it. It is about becoming a better critical thinker so that you can solve ALL types of problems.
When I was an undergraduate taking Differential Equations, I had copies of the professor’s exams from the previous year. Of course, I used them to study for upcoming exams. One time I recall that the exam he gave was exactly the same as the one I had practiced. I did well on the exam, got an A in the course, but I didn’t LEARN anything about differential equations. In this case, I deprived myself from learning the material thoroughly. If we give practice tests and then give students similar tests with numbers changed, aren’t we depriving them from truly learning the material? Aren’t we teaching to the test? Will they be able to apply the skills from that course on other problems or will they only be able to solve certain types of problems?
In our math education courses, my colleague and I have the students teach short lessons frequently so that they can practice. We believe strongly that students need to practice teaching in front of their peers in a friendly environment before they go out into the classroom. These practice lessons help them prepare the content, the lesson plan, the activities, and how they will teach that topic. They do NOT prepare them for the students in the room who are sleeping, talking, goofing around, etc. We cannot possibly prepare them for every situation that they will encounter in their classroom. We CAN offer them guidance on lesson planning and content delivery, but they are going to need to be able to problem solve on the fly.