Cramming It In

Cramming It InIn a recent podcast I lamented some difficulties with modern martial art training. (See Podcast 5 – History’s Synergies and a follow-up post, After Thoughts.) A particular concern for me is the concept of regular, scheduled testing.

Testing and benchmarks are valuable things. They allow a person to recognize what they have accomplished as well as where they fell short. They also allow training companions to recognize each other’s accomplishments, providing some visible level of experience from which the entire group may draw.

That said, there are difficulties with testing. For some studies such as martial arts, music, dance, and a host of others, the test results are subjective. We have to rely on the skills and judgment of the administrator for the results to have any value. If you do not respect the administrator how can you value a positive or negative test result? Those are sticky points that we simply must accept. Some studies are not like math or geography where the answers to questions are unalterable fact.

What bothers me about modern testing techniques is the scheduling of tests. When the test date is known, people cram. We have all been there, whether in high school or college, or in a martial art school. The test looms large before us and we suddenly begin to devote some attention to the material.

Cramming solves the dilemma of the test itself, but does not necessarily advance learning. For subjects like math, that might be fine. If the individual goes on to develop some career or practice involving mathematics, when they need a concept that was quickly learned, and quickly forgotten because it was learned only during a cramming session, they can always crack a book to grab the concept at need. But the more subjective, performing arts and sciences require more than an ability to slip through the test. The test should show what the individual has actually acquired, not what they can quickly mimic.

In the past, at least in my personal experiences, tests where given when the administrator felt that the individual had attained a level worth being tested. The concept of the test was more like the mathematical concept of “proof”. The test was a proof that the skills and knowledge exist. A scheduled test is more akin to a prod; a poke forcing the individual to pay some attention to the prescribed material. Such tests create more parrots than artisans.

At some future date when a cram-happy parrot goes on to develop some career or practice in their field, they cannot simply crack open a book when some crammed concept eludes them. Technically they would have to step back to that level and begin their training anew until they finally acquire the skills and concepts they shuffled their way through. If they are now the administrator, what of their pupils as they cram for their tests?

It is doubtful that we will be able to avoid a world of scheduled testing. It seems to be the way a majority of the populace thinks about all forms of education, from standardized testing to SATs. It may cause some people to pay attention during the learning phase, but scheduled testing will always cause others to wait and cram.

It is interesting to note, one of the definitions of “cram” is to fill something to the point of overflowing. Cramming always means that something spills out.

About Sifu Keith Mosher

My new book, "Astro Boy, Sensei, and Me" is available now, as is my Sci-Fi joy ride, "On a Sphere's Edge". I have a Bachelor of Media Arts degree from USC. I have been an Audio Producer / Engineer, a Law Office Manager, and I am currently an Author and a Martial Arts Instructor.
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