Function and Importance of Pre and Post Tests

Updated on February 4, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul has spent many years teaching EFL and ESL. He taught EFL in Taiwan during the 70s, ESL in the U.S., and most recently EFL in Thailand.

Second Grade Students in Thailand Taking a Test

Photo taken around 2013 at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Thailand
Photo taken around 2013 at Saint Joseph Bangna School in Thailand | Source

What Are Pre and Post Tests?

For three years I used pre and post tests as assessment tools for measuring the preparedness and performance of my EFL students. In addition to measuring how much students have improved in one semester of study, the pre/post-test can be a valuable diagnostic tool for more effective teaching.

A pre/post-test by design covers all of the topics which a student will be studying during a semester. While taking the pre-test at the beginning of a semester, students are not expected to know the answers to all of the questions; however, they should be expected to utilize previous knowledge to predict rational answers. When taking the same test called a post-test at the end of a semester, students should be expected to answer more questions correctly based on an increase in knowledge and understanding.

A pre/post-test should be designed to measure the amount of learning a student has acquired in a specific subject. To do this, questions concerning all of the topics covered during a semester must appear on the test. When grading the tests, the teacher assigns a numerical score to both the pre-test and the post-test. To demonstrate that student progress has been made during a given semester, the post-test score should be higher than the pre-test score.

Pre and Post Test

How Can a Pre and Post Test Be Used as a Teacher Diagnostic Tool?

A pre/post-test functions as a teacher diagnostic tool in the following five ways:

1. It Identifies the Very Weak Students in a Class:

Every time I grade a pre-test I am able to get a fairly good idea about the weak students in my class. In most cases, their scores are close to the bottom of the class. Many of these weak students don't even finish answering all of the questions on the test. When these same students take the post-test, the improvement in their scores over the pre-test is much less than other students.

2. It Identifies the strongest students in a class:

The students scoring more than 80 percent on the pre-test usually turn out to be the best students in my class. I have had a few pupils score 95 or above, and in most cases, they have demonstrated gifted and talented characteristics.

3. It identifies topics which the students already know:

If 75 - 80 percent of the students score above 80 on a certain topic, this would indicate that most of the students already know the subject matter. In fact, I once had a class in which 60 percent of the students scored more than 75 on the pre-test.

4. It identifies topics which the students don't know:

I had just finished giving pre-tests to EFL students who were taking my reading and writing course. More than 70 percent of the students scored less than 50 on the mechanics of writing. This included capitalization, spelling, punctuation, verb tense usage, and other grammatical errors. This clearly identified a topic which the students still didn't know.

5. It identifies topics which the students have not learned:

in comparing pre-test and post-test scores, a much higher post-test score should indicate that a student has learned certain topics. If the scores are about the same, or if the post-test score is lower than the pre-test score, in all indications this measures that topics were not learned in the course.

Benefits of a Pre and Post Test

How Can a Pre and Post Test Be Used For More Effective Teaching?

Pre/Post tests can be used for more effective teaching in the following three ways:

1. Weak Students Should Be Given Remedial Instruction:

After the pre-test identifies the weak students in class, it is the teacher's responsibility to give extra remedial instruction. For example, if a student is not reading at the fifth-grade level as measured by a post-test given at the end of fourth grade, the teacher should find instructional materials at a lower grade level. A dedicated teacher would then find time during his lunch hour or breaks during the day to give extra individual help to the student. The teacher would also encourage the student's parents to assist with remedial tutoring.

2. The Strong Or Gifted Students Must Be Given Extra Challenging Materials:

After the strong or gifted and talented students are identified through a pre-test, it is the teacher's duty to give these students extra challenging materials. My school in Thailand does not have a special program or class for the gifted and talented. All students, even the ones with special education needs, are streamlined into one class. This being the case, it is even more important for the teacher to make sure the student works up to his or her ability. If this is not done, the student will become bored and maybe even present discipline problems.

3. Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans Should Be Revised:

Most teachers draw up a semester scheme of work and individual class lesson plans well before the first day of class. The pre-test, however, is not given until the first week of class. If the results of the pre-test indicate that most students know a topic of instruction very well, a good teacher will be flexible and revise his scheme of work. The teacher would probably arrange to spend less time on the topic known very well, and he would most certainly arrange to spend more time on a topic which the students have no knowledge or understanding. If the post-test for a previous class showed that most students did not learn a topic, a wise teacher would revise his teaching method and perhaps use different teaching materials for the next class he teaches.

Pre/Post tests are a necessary teacher diagnostic tool for measuring the learning of EFL and other students. Teachers must remember to use them as a diagnostic instrument so that teaching can be more effective.

Function of a Pre and Post Test

What is the most important function of a pre and post test?

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© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


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    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 23 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      @DoveFreexrolo , Thank you very much for your comments. I am very happy you found this hub helpful.

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      DoveFreexrolo 23 months ago

      Hello I adore your blog. Ie actually just started one of my own, studied a lot from this site. Thank you

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      Paul Richard Kuehn 2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      &rozel caga , If all of my students passed the pretest, I would have them all start with the next higher learning module. Thanks for commenting.

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      rozel caga 2 years ago

      What will you do if all your students passed the pre test lesson

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      Thanks for reading and your comments. Pre-tests and post-tests have the exact same content. The purpose for this is to determine how much a student has progressed after finishing a chapter of semester of work. You are correct in stating that the teacher will not share (or show) the pre-test mistakes to the student, because the student will then know what to expect for the post-test. What the teacher should do is point out in general terms what your child had problems with on the pre-test, so that he or she can practice and overcome deficiencies to do better on the post-test.

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      brodemi 5 years ago

      The question has come up w/my child's 4th grade math teacher who gives pretests before each chapter whether to share the pre-test with the students. She does not. What is your opinion and reasons. The only reason for not sharing I can think of is that the pre-test "gives away" too much the structure of the post-test, making it easier to focus on how to do well specifically on the post-test rather than learning the material per se. Seems a week argument, especially for 4th graders.

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      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I'm happy to help anytime and I am always trying to think of better ways to improve my tests.

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      Dianne 5 years ago

      Hi Paul, Thank you for that. I have been 'arguing' that our school should not be using the same test for pre and post. I understood that if they had been exposed to the test then it may affect the scores, as they could discuss the questions with each other, look up the answer etc etc hmmmm . Might have to go eat a piece of humble pie tomorrow morning at school.

      Thanks for your input :-)

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Hi Dianne,

      Yes, you can definitely use your pretest as your posttest. The purpose in doing this is to compare the two scores and see if your students have made any progress.

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      Dianne 5 years ago

      Hi, Can you use your pretest as your posttest??

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      Ana Sia 5 years ago

      thank you for sharing this article, basically pre test is a must for us math teachers.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you for reading and the great comment.

    • Sturgeonl profile image

      Sturgeonl 5 years ago

      This is an excellent article that effectively shows the value of pretests to support the range of learning needs in a class. Your emphasis on being flexibile regarding instruction and planning is an important point. Great hub! Voted up and useful.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Emmanuel, No, I haven't encountered any resistance at all. However, many students ask why they are taking the test and I explain the rationale behind it. Thanks for your favorable comments.

    • Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

      Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Paul, this pre/post test is very well explained and I agree it is a useful tool. I gave such tests without knowing what to call them. However, I found the students were averse to them, and I was once reported to the Principal for 'setting questions on topics I had not taught.' I had to explain that my objective was to gauge what the student already knew, but I wasn't encouraged to continue. Have you faced any resistance from the students so far? Useful and voted up.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I'm not sure I understand your question. What do you mean by adjusting academic exam results?

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      Debi 6 years ago

      Interesting. Can you tell me if you know of ways to adjust academic exam results for EFL learners who must undertake all instruction in English with English texts(full immersion)?

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 6 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Hi Andrea,

      Every time I give my pre-tests I see a wide variance between students scores. It turns out that the students with the very low scores are working well below grade placement, and the students with the exceptionally high scores are working well above grade placement. In teaching a class with both types of students it's extremely important to give individual help to these students, because in most cases my school won't transfer them to different classes. When you are teaching 40 students in a class, this can be very hard to do.

    • Andrea Hildreth profile image

      Andrea Hildreth 6 years ago from West Coast, USA

      Hello Paul,

      I share your enthusiasm for pre/post tests. There is great value in discovering what knowledge students bring into the course, so that you can set authentic expectations.

      Do you have any advice on how to respond to a wide variance between student scores on the pre-test?

      Andrea Hildreth