Tests are Anathema to Andragogy

“…tests are anathema to andragogy, which assumes adults are capable of self-evaluating their own learning,”

The focus of this journal entry will be:
  • Tests should be part of every adult learners education 
  • The difficulties with self-evaluation 
  • Strategies for learner autonomy and creating a critical environment 

Proficiency tests are widely used as objective measure of language proficiency in second language learning. The most significant benefit these tests offer students is that they are a tool learners are able to compare their self-evaluation with. To confirm their understanding of their progress, performance, and proficiency, learners need to be tested. The challenge for instructors of ESL in relation to this quote is twofold: firstly, teachers must manage learner attitudes towards the exams used, and secondly, they must facilitate learner self-evaluation, as language learners tend to rely solely on test results when evaluating their own learning.

For teachers and students alike, exam preparation carries with it both a high level of responsibility and reward. For students needing an ELP score, the pressures to perform are generally high: a passing mark is often the gateway to job prospects, higher education, and immigration. These factors significantly affect the choices made by the learner and how they feel about the learning process and the exam itself. In reflecting on the quote above, I realized that self-evaluation is a skill with its own strategies that need to be taught as much as the test strategies. Self-evaluation is often not given an appropriate amount of time is a classroom, more specifically, my own classroom. Also, learners do not always see the connection between test scores and their effort, knowledge, and language abilities.


Exams both positively and negatively shape student expectations and motivation. Exams can be extrinsic goals to help students to study hard and provide a sense of accomplishment. In contrast, they can also cause anxiety and fear of test results. It is crucial for learners to see the value of the skills being tested and practiced, and that they take responsibility for their own learning. This includes commitment to a greater amount of homework involving self-study, revision, self-correction, and exposure to authentic language outside of the classroom. Without self-reporting or self-evaluation, learners risk being stuck in their old patterns of beliefs and behaviors and never become fully autonomous. One of the principal goals of education is to change the beliefs learners have about themselves by showing them weaknesses can be attributed to a lack of effective strategies rather than to a lack of potential. Learners will be more likely to evaluate their learning if they have been actively involved in making the decision to do so, and if they see a personal value in doing so.


Building confidence and motivation can be done by involving students in the learning process and giving them agency. The common goal of passing the test can bring students together and foster autonomy within the classroom, and at the same time build a community of learners. Teachers, like myself, can promote learner autonomy by helping students use noticing strategies and use self-reports as a tool to raise awareness about learner strategies and the need for continuous evaluation of their techniques, goals, and outcomes (Thanasoulas, 2000).

I will also incorporate self-evaluation into exam preparation classes by using some of the activities for creating a critical classroom mentioned in Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice on page 228. These activities include:
  • Practicing democracy 
  • Fostering critical reflection 
  • Building a learning community 
First, students will be given choice on the strategies and content that matter most to them as individuals, though surveys, questionnaires and diagnostics to see which strengths and areas for improvement the learners have. Next, learners can complete a self-assessment of their abilities at various points in the course. When the instructor provides feedback to the learners, he or she can compare the diagnostic results against the learner’s perceived abilities. Results from practice exercises and mock exams can be compiled in a journal so the learner can track their improvement. And finally, group commonalities of strengths and weaknesses can be used as a tool for the students to build a community. For example, if five students are all struggling with the same question, they can meet and help each other.


Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult Learning Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Thanasoulas, D. (2000, November). What is Learner Autonomy and How Can It Be Fostered? The Internet TESL Journal, VI(11).


Popular Posts

BOPPPS Workshop

Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)

My Post about Post-its