Dot Physics

Tests, study guides and google

I overheard this high school student complaining about a teacher. Here is essentially what she said (about a class her friend is in):

“This teacher is crazy. He said we have a test the next day and he gave them a study guide. But he didn’t give the answers to the study guide. My friend and her mom stayed up till midnight looking up the answers on google.”

I am pretty sure this was regarding a math class. So, what is the problem? I think there are a couple, but it mainly has to do with the nature of assessment. What is the point of assessing if students know (memorize temporarily) stuff they can look up off google? Unfortunately many students (and obviously some teachers) think this is normal stuff. Perhaps this can best be summed up by Calvin and Hobbes.

I think we (people that teach physics stuff) are fortunate in that even normal and traditional type assessments aren’t really suitable to “study guides”. Well, we can make study guides but they just look like homework questions or something.

High school (and college) courses need to be more about thinking and less about memorizing – we already have google and wikipedia to quickly look up stuff that can be memorized.

Sorry for the rant, I just had to say something.


  1. #1 Eric
    February 26, 2009

    Although I agree with you to some extent, I think some memorizing skills are needed. If I were to look up the definition of kinematic viscosity or the Reynolds number every time I encounter it in my work, I wouldn’t get anything done.
    In mathematics, to be able to think creatively about a problem, you need to draw on a certain amount of background knowledge. If you have to spend time looking up every little definition or proof, you loose track of what the original problem was.

  2. #2 Rhett
    February 26, 2009


    I think you are correct. There are some things that need to be memorized – like vocabulary words and such. However, I think the focus of college courses should be very little memorization (except for courses like anatomy and stuff).

  3. #3 Stephanie Chasteen
    March 25, 2009

    Yes, I agree. Memorization is one important aspect of learning, but it tends to be overemphasized (partially because we see science as “knowing a lot of facts” and partly because it’s just easier to test if someone memorized something than if they can apply it or extend it).

    Bloom’s Taxonomy is a common way to delineate the different levels of questioning: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The higher-order thinking aspects of knowledge come at the end of that list. Here is a website with some sample question stems that address different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy:

  4. #4 rob
    April 29, 2009

    the next time you hear that high school student say something it will be: “would you like fries with that?” and then you will get the incorrect change back.

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