Landfill waste vs. academic success: The debate of writing on tests

Whether it’s multiple choice, matching, or true and false, students ask the same question for every test: “Can we write on the test?” The answer differs depending on the teacher.

Science teacher Cat Lest does not allow her students to write on tests unless it’s a fill in the blank test. “It’s important to me that we do not waste unnecessary paper; all of my anatomy tests are multiple choice or matching.” However, Lest does allow her students to have scratch paper to write on. “There is a correlation, I think, between the kids that take the time to get a piece of scratch paper and mark off their answers and how well they do on the test,” she said.

Senior Kate Custer said she prefers to write on her tests. “It always helps me to physically cross out [answers], so I don’t have to keep track of what I have left,” she said. Writing on tests allows students to not only cross out invalid answers, but also to make notes, draw diagrams, and jot down information, which can be beneficial, especially to visual learners.

In a 2012 study by Karin James of Indiana University and Lauren Engelhardt of the University of Texas, the results show that when children can physically write, they activate multiple regions of the brain, especially the visual processing center. The study also suggests that writing is preferred because it requires the one writing to think about what they’ve learned.

A downfall to allowing each student to write on his or her test is the amount of paper it would require. If a teacher taught 100 students and gave each of those students a three-page test, that’s already 300 pieces of paper used, whereas if the teacher has twenty in each class and did not permit students to write on the tests only 60 pieces of paper would be used. Paper waste makes up over 25% of landfill  waste, which is contributed to by schools. Another issue with the volume of paper needed is deforestation. The U.S. alone uses approximately 68 million trees for paper production.

Academic success seems to favor allowing students to make marks of tests, but the environmental impact affects more than just grades. If students are allowed to flourish academically they will have a greater impact through future actions.

We love to hear from our readers, comment what you think. Should writing on tests be allowed? Which is greater: academic success or landfill waste?

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