Saturday, March 03, 2007

More Thoughts on Testing (Or, Its Not Just Me!)

It seems our school's way of doing tests is different from what I've heard about elsewhere. When we test, *most* people don't pass the the first try, especially all the way up to brown belt. On our last test for a green stripe, only one person out of about 10 or 12 passed right away. I'm not sure whether black belt candidates also go through testing and retesting, or whether they are expected to be more perfect.

Anyway, I don't know whether our system is good or bad. On the one hand it seems that we test *very* frequently, at least in the lower belts. We get good feedback about what we need to improve, and retesting and improving one's technique continues over the course of the next few weeks or sometimes months. So its certainly good practice for perfecting your technique, which is hard to do in a huge group during class. On the other hand, during testing, there is always this rise and excitement about testing, and then the fall of disappointment on not passing. I would think it kind of bums you out, time after time.


Amanda said...

I was going to ask about that. Frankly, I wouldn't've stuck with taekwondo if I had been tested like that. Call me a wimp, call me whatever, but I just couldn't deal with that.

I have been tested before I've felt ready. I have been tested long after I've felt ready. I have had tests go so badly (to me) that I don't think I should have passed them (not good!). I have begged to push a test date back (sometimes this has worked, sometimes it hasn't). I have had test dates pushed back due to red tape and visas and Kukkiwon regulations. ^^ I have been told "you need to come four times this week" before being allowed to test. I have been told "everyone else will test on Saturday, you will wait an extra week." I have had testing procedures modified due to language differences. I have been asked to redo parts of tests during testing. I have restarted poomse in the middle of tests myself. I have seen all of these things happen to other people too (except the Kukkiwon bit).

But I have never, ever been part of a studio where 90% of the people fail on their first try. (And I have trained and seen testing in 4 different studios in two different countries!)

I have to wonder what the goal of your instructors is. Maybe it's to motivate people, but I sure don't get motivated that way. Thank GOD my Korean kwanjangnims ALL recognized that!

Speaking as a TEACHER, I am NOT proud if my passing rate is 10%. Some call this "high standards." I call this "bad teaching."

Part of the job of a teacher is to evaluate, prepare, reevaluate students. In a public school position, there were times I HAD to give a test, even if I knew my students weren't ready.

Taekwondo, however, is not like that. You are, essentially, working at your own pace. If an instructor keeps pushing people to test before they're ready (and with a 90% failure rate, that seems to be the case), that means he or she is not doing enough in-class informal evaluation, to me.

I also wonder, do you have to pay for each retest or is there only one testing fee?

You wrote:
On the other hand, during testing, there is always this rise and excitement about testing, and then the fall of disappointment on not passing. I would think it kind of bums you out, time after time.

Of course there is a place for failure and frustration and all other things in the martial arts--that's the whole positive/negative, construct/destruct, light/dark, yang/um thing going on.

I would rather get my rises and falls THROUGHOUT training--in each class, each technique, throughout--and hopefully more of the rises than falls during testing. ^^

Bully for you if you can keep up with this motivation technique. I seriously mean that, because I couldn't. There is definitely another way it's done. And for that, I'm very grateful.

Little Cricket said...

I guess I do keep going because one, I enjoy the class, and second, I'm not the only one who doesn't pass right away. Maybe since our way of doing it is different, its not right/helpful to think of it as failing. Its more like you're almost there, and with a bit of extra effort to correct the things that are lacking, you're ready to be promoted.
At least, that's what I tell myself.

There's no testing fee as such. My tkd school is part of the university (Tech, since you've lived in Atlanta), so we pay about $40 to sign up at the beginning of the semester, and then there are no more fees. In Fall and Spring semesters there are either one or two tests, and you take it if you feel ready.

Little Cricket said...

Just to clarify, the retest isn't a formal test. Basically what you do is pick a brown belt or higher to help you with the techniques that you needed improvement on in the test and once they are satisfied, you get your belt or stripe. This is usually done in the time after class, and so far has taken me about 4-5 sessions (over a couple of weeks because of time constraints). Of course it depends on how many things you need to improve as well.

Amanda said...

Tech!? What's the good word?

My ex-fiance was a Tech guy (grad school, AE). I went to Agnes Scott, though we didn't meet till long after I was done at Scott. I learned how to sort of drive a motorcycle in Tech's parking lots. I miss all of those great math/science bookstores. Yep, yep, I know where you go!

Failing that many students the first time around could be a Tech thing then. I know how competitive Tech can be. ^^

If you have access to a car, there's a great studio up in Smyrna. It's not on the subway line, but it's practically a straight drive from Tech (I used to live off 5th, over by the park).

Monthly fees (when I was there) are about $100 (belt tests NOT included), teaches both Chonji and Taegeuk series, classes held during the day and at night (adult classes, too) and on Saturdays, and the people are really friendly. The vast majority of classes are taught by the Grandmaster (9th dan), and there's lots of individual attention. If you want more info, you can search for "Smyrna" on my website. The info is in the only post that shows up.

Not trying to be pushy at all--but if you're around during the summer or want an additional training place...

Little Cricket said...

Heh, er...I'll guess, 'To hell with Georgia!'. There aren't that many foreign grad students who would know that one :)

Thanks for all the info about the Smyrna classes. It does sound nice...I'll consider it for summer. Its true I'm not a big fan of driving around anymore, I've set up everything (I live near the High) so that nothing is more than a 40 minute walk or 10 min marta train ride away (except airport I guess). I try not to drive if I can help it.

On the other hand, since I'll probably finish my Phd by the end of summer, I also want to spend as much time on our classes as I can, because I am feeling a bit of heartache at having to leave classes and find a new school. Its hard to explain, there are some things that I like the way my teacher teaches a lot...deep stances, emphasis on the motion of the hips and other things which I feel afraid will be different elsewhere, and I really want to be proficient in them. Or for example, I'd like to learn all my forms in our school's style before having to start a completely new way of doing things (even if they are the same forms). Possibly some of this is just nervousness which I'll forget once I start classes somewhere else, but that's how I feel at the moment.

John Vesia said...

It's probably good when students test frequently, so they get used to the rigors of preparation. Usually, failing candidates come at the dan (black belt) level more often than the lower ranks. At least that's what I've seen. I agree that the test is probably the closest one gets to personal coaching, especially if you're in a big school.

Some schools don't really test - it's more like a glorified ceremony for promotion. Students pay their fare, put in their time, and get a belt.

A good teacher "tests" her/his people everyday, whether they realize it or not.

Miss Chris said...

I think it has its good and bad points. Students need to realize they actually need to work to pass. On the other hand, too much failure is far from motivating. Our school tests frequently and the tests are hard but usually passible.

Little Cricket said...


I totally agree with your points. I'm coming to the conclusion that every school and teacher has its own practices and the test of the student is to learn in the best way she can.
So I'm not feeling dissatisfied with the way things are at my school. After a few days it spurs me on to try harder and be better.

Miss Chris,

"Students need to realize that they actually need to work to pass."

Yup! This is something I definitely realize being at my school.

[Mat] said...

It's a way of doing things, I guess.

I'd love to be tested that often. But I have my reasons for that.


Steve said...

We don't test for promotion at my current school. When our black belt instructor feels that you've demonstrated skill at an appropriate level, he gives you a belt. It's usually a complete surprise and I've yet to witness someone who felt they deserved the promotion.

At my old school, one of the problems I had was that no one EVER failed.

It's been a few months since this post. Have you continued to advance? Are you growing used to the system? I hope so.

Little Cricket said...

Hi Steve,

Welcome here, and thanks for leaving a message.

Your system of no-tests sounds interesting, promotion is like getting an unexpected present!

But seriously, I have become completely comfortable with our system. In some ways, it is very relaxing: you just go give your test doing the very best you can with no expectations. Then, in a relaxed way over the ext few months you can practice all the things you need to improve.

I have continued to advance; beltwise and otherwise :)...I tested for a 'blue stripe' on my green belt (it was my fourth test) recently. Though I didn't pass, one of my seniors at the pizza later told me that he had seen my test and thought I did well. That felt really good to hear :D