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Why Students Aren't Passing Tests

Paul has spent many years teaching English as a foreign and second language. He has taught EFL in Taiwan and Thailand, and ESL in the U.S.

Second Grade Students Taking Mid-term Tests in Thailand


Students Aren't Passing My EFL Tests

Thailand's fifth-grade EFL students are having a very hard time passing English tests. After taking recent mid-term tests in grammar, speaking, reading, and writing, only half of my students were able to get a passing grade of 50. The results were shocking to me because previously the failure rate wasn't so high. This article is a post-mortem on my tests in which I suggest reasons for students not passing tests.

Mid-term Tests

In Thailand, midterm tests are usually given during the ninth or tenth week of our 20-week first term. The exams last for one hour each, and they are held on exclusive test-taking days which are announced to students well ahead of time. Exam topics cover the items which were taught and reviewed during the weeks before the tests. Students and their parents are also made aware of the topics and types of questions on the tests one month in advance.

Nine Reasons for Students Not Passing Tests

After examining the mid-term tests as well as the quizzes, homework, and daily performance of students leading up to the exams, I suggest nine reasons for my students and other pupils not passing tests.

1. Inability of Students to Do the Classwork

It was obvious from my pre-test results that many students could not do the assigned classwork. This was validated by scores from quizzes, dictations, and homework assignments given before the tests. It was also frequently seen in classroom participation.

Why, then, do so many students have the inability to do classwork? It's simply because many need remedial work and don't belong in the class. How else can you explain a fifth-grader speaking on a second-grade level, and reading and writing like a first-grader? The sad fact is that through school promotion policies kids who aren't ready for fifth-grade English have been placed with students working at grade level. The kids and parents of the misplaced students feel good about themselves, but teachers and other students suffer.

2. Inability of Students to Understand Test Directions

All of the students who are unable to do the classwork also cannot understand test directions. For example, on one part of my reading and writing exam, The instructions called for the students to find and circle mistakes in each sentence, and then rewrite the sentences. The kids who couldn't read and understand these directions answered the seven questions on the test by writing words or a combination of words for the directions. Hence, an answer for the test item "We likes the movie very much" was "circle."

3. Tests Were Too Difficult

I have concluded that my tests were too difficult for many students to pass. This is undoubtedly due to the kids' inability to understand and do the classwork and directions on the tests. The tests should have been easier and included questions that the students could more easily understand. For example, in testing vocabulary, the pupils had to demonstrate how to use words correctly in sentences. Considering the average level of the students, vocabulary knowledge should have initially been tested by having the kids identify word meanings with pictures.

4. Tests Didn't Reflect What Students Actually Learned

To be honest, the tests that I constructed didn't reflect what the students had learned. Instead, questions on the test were based on items in the textbook which I thought the kids should have learned. Based on student performance on quizzes, dictation, and daily homework, I should have only tested those items in which the vast majority of students demonstrated competence.

5. Students Didn't Study for Tests

Many students probably didn't study for my tests, because they had been unable to do the daily homework. This was clearly shown in answers to true and false questions related to an article that the kids should have read. If the students had difficulty reading and understanding the article, they certainly weren't very motivated to review it while studying for the test.

In most Thailand schools, students don't have to worry about failing tests. If they should not pass a test on the first try, the policy of schools is to retest students with simpler tests until they are eventually given a pass.

6. Students Don't Know How to Take Tests

A lot of my students don't know how to take tests. I initially found this out when giving my kids short practice tests. Many kids had the problem of focusing and getting started on a test. After beginning a test, a big problem was budgeting time for the various parts of the test. A problem that amazes me is the number of students who will not answer a multiple-choice question they don't understand. Many students are probably afraid to make educated guesses. Another problem is that many kids rush through their tests, and then neglect to check their answers. This often leads to careless mistakes.

How to Pass Tests

7. Tests Are Too Long

Some exams are too long, and students are pressed to have enough time to finish answering all of the questions. I would prefer to write shorter tests; however, school administration usually dictates a minimum number of test items for mid-term and final tests. My school isn't too keen on short tests, regarding them as generally too easy and able to be completed in 15-20 minutes.

8. Students Have Learning Disorders

Some students fail tests due to learning disorders such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

9. Students Have Physical and Emotional Problems

Finally, some students fail tests due to physical and emotional problems. If students are physically and/or emotionally sick, they will not be able to perform well on tests. Also, students who haven't had much sleep will do poorly on tests.


When teachers create future tests, they would do well in reflecting on why their students did so poorly on previous tests. Making sure that tests accurately reflect what students have studied and mastered is one sure way of preventing a lot of failures. Students must also know how to take tests and understand test directions.

Why Students Aren't Passing Tests

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Paul Richard Kuehn

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Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 07, 2013:


Thanks for reading and commenting on this hub. I also appreciate your votes and sharing.

moonlake from America on October 06, 2013:

Interesting hub. I think I missed this hub and thought I had read all your hubs. Voted up and shared.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 14, 2013:


Thank you very much for your comments. I really appreciate your encouragement and agree that a child's upbringing has a lot to do with their success at school. Yes, everyday is certainly a different challenge in teaching.

bettybarnesb from Bartlett, TN on August 13, 2013:

I found your article quite interesting. Just want to encourage you in your venture to pursue what works best for the children you teach. Always bearing in mind that children learn differently. Their home life probably has a lot to do with it also. I am sure teaching is a big challenge, however, you appear to be "up" for it.

be blessed...

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 31, 2013:


Thank you for your very enlightening comments. I find your observation that "we teach to the standard of mediocrity today by system force and not teacher choice" very interesting and true. Teaching to the test is also wrong, but it is also something I have to contend with here in Thailand.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 29, 2013:


Let me begin by saying that it's great to hear from you again! I'm elated that you liked this hub and found it informative. I also appreciate your very insightful comments.

Wayne Brown from Texas on July 29, 2013:

There once was an old adage around in my college days that played something to the tune of, "If a few fail the course, it is their inability or fault but if half or more fail then the shortcoming may lie in some other area...possibly the teacher or the system". I think that observation has some merit in at least directing our focus and drilling down as you have done here. Sadly, in far too many areas of the global education system, the focus of the system is not aligned with the priorities of the teacher thus the teachers hands are tied. The system is not looking to create students who excel but more like wanting all of them to pass on in mediocrity. We teach to the standard of mediocrity today by system force not teacher choice. I always felt as if I was either offered or taught more than I was tested on in a given subject in the end. Today, we tend to teach to the test thus the offering is rather lean at the start and the demand is for 70 to 80% recall of what was taught. We have to face the problem by asking, "what has changed...the children or the system which teaches them" and then make corrections accordingly. Thanks for sharing! ~WB

Suzie from Carson City on July 29, 2013:

Paul....Another extremely informative hub by obviously concerned and experienced teacher.

It's been many years since my own kids attended school. Although I have several grandchildren in school, I only get 2nd hand info. I DO know that they're all doing extremely well and of course, am thrilled with that.

However, I am aware that it gets harder and harder as the years pass. The work load is heavier and kids can change. As you point out so clearly, in your interesting hub, there's much more to learning and testing than meets the eye. It is so very important for parents to be actively involved and to ASK QUESTIONS! This nonsense about walking on eggs or going overboard to protect egos & images......a BIG mistake. Life simply is NOT a cushy ride on a soft cloud, where everything comes easily! To allow our children to believe this, in my humble opinion, is just short of child neglect. The world will not be so gentle and accepting. Kids need to KNOW how to deal with REALITY.

Thanks for the wise words, Paul!...UP++++

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 26, 2013:


Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this hub. I certainly appreciate your remarks about my dedication as a teacher. Yes, many students in Thailand understand that they will eventually pass, and for that reason they become lazy with bad study habits and don't take tests seriously. I greatly appreciate your evaluation of this hub and your votes.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 26, 2013:

Hi Peggy,

I'm very happy that you read and commented on this hub. I guess kids aren't failing or being left behind anymore because it's important not to hurt anyone's feelings. Hell, if this mentality was around in 1966, I would have easily gotten into medical school without having better grades. My feelings were certainly hurt for a while, but back then no one really cared. Pop quizzes are a great idea especially for the kids who don't like to study. I do care about my students, but it is hard fighting the political correctness that we see in Thailand and not only in America. Thanks for sharing this hub.

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on July 25, 2013:

Excellent article! You are definitely a dedicated and caring teacher and I wish there were more teachers like you out there. I found it of particular interest when you mentioned that in the Thailand educational system, if the student fails a test, they continue to take easier tests until they pass. I am wondering if that is part of the problem. Aside from children with legitimate learning disabilities or those with physical or emotional issues, I am wondering if it's possible that these children don't try hard enough because they know they will ultimately get a passing grade? I believe that you brought up some worthwhile points which should be taken into consideration in most school systems throughout the world. Great job! Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 25, 2013:

Hi Paul,

Early in this hub you mentioned probably the largest problem of all...that of kids being promoted even though they did not understand the former grade level. When I was a child, kids did "flunk" classes if they had not mastered the subject and would be held back to repeat the grade or class. While it might have been embarrassing, it certainly would have helped in the next grade or class when they advanced.

Pop quizzes were also frequently held...especially when I was in parochial school in the lower grades. I think those are invaluable to not only the student but also the teacher to understand how they are comprehending the subject.

You sound like a teacher who really cares about his students. Voted up, interesting and will share.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 24, 2013:

I tAu fait,

I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comments on this hub. Yes, having the students read the directions to tests through frequent quizzes is a good idea. Using a game as a test is also a good idea. I think these ideas would work in a language class. It's great that you find this hub interesting and useful. Thanks for sharing and pinning it.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 24, 2013:


Thank you very much for commenting on this hub. I guess most kids no matter whether they are good or bad students have some fear of tests. I think it's the teacher's job to lessen the fear which kids have. Your comments are much appreciated, and I'm pleased you found this article interesting.

C E Clark from North Texas on July 24, 2013:

I realize from my experience at the university that a lot of people have trouble with taking tests. From my perspective as a student I would say some of those problems were due to not paying attention when in class and not showing up to class at all, and of course not reading the assignments. But I'm talking about college students, not the lower grades which are different. They may not be paying attention either, but they are usually present at least.

I rarely tested my daughter while home schooling and as a result she gets test anxiety. At least that's what I think the reason for her anxiety is. She does well on tests, and as I wrote in previous hubs, she took the GED test cold turnkey. None of those special programs that teach how to pass the GED, no tutoring or studying before the test. She got in the 90 percentile in all but math where she was at 80%. She didn't have to repeat the test or any of it's components like many of her fellow test takers. She did well and does well on tests, so I don't fully understand her test anxiety. If she did poorly I could understand it.

Tests have been easy for me in the past. Much easier I think than class participation or homework. There are strategies to taking tests and for studying effectively. I think those should be taught starting in the 2nd grade at latest.

Good that you are analyzing the reasons for low test scores and perhaps also modifying your teaching methods to improve on them. Frequent pop quizes on those things that will be on the exam might be helpful so that children get to read the same directions many times and do similar exercises again and again. Maybe a game that is fun could be incorporated. I'm just making suggestions off the top of my head. I have no idea if these things would work in a language class.

Voted up, interesting, useful, and will share and pin.

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on July 24, 2013:

Very interesting article! As a child, I got sick because I was so afraid of my first math. exam. As an adult, I must say that as soon as I hear the word test, I still go a little bit in panic mode!

As a teacher, I tried to have the kids do tests on a regular base for two reasons, first they would not be afraid and second, they would learn to answer to tests and eventually exams.

Years after I quitted teaching, I learned that one of my students had a fear of tests! I wondered why the parents never talked to me about it; I believe that talking about her fear would have helped her to not be afraid!

Thanks for sharing!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 24, 2013:


I understand what you are saying about Standardized tests and the teacher having to teach to the test. Unfortunately, we have this problem in Thailand, too. I appreciate your comments and am glad that you liked this hub.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 24, 2013:


I am convinced that the teacher does share the responsibility for students' success or failure. A teacher from Taiwan once remarked to me that there weren't any bad students, only bad teachers. Any student can make academic progress if they are in the hands of a good teacher.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 24, 2013:


Thank you very much for praising this hub. I care for teaching, and wouldn't be doing this at my age if I didn't really love it. I'm happy you liked this hub, and I certainly won't disappoint you with my next teaching hub. Thanks for sharing this hub.

vandynegl from Ohio Valley on July 23, 2013:

I like that you have taken the time to reflect on the many reasons students may not pass tests. It makes sense that teachers do this, to help them work on areas not understood, as well as adapting tests better to the needs of the children.

However, the problem we have here in Ohio, is that Content Standards have become more complex (1st grade objectives are now Kindergarten ones). Standardized tests are unfortunately the norm. What happens then? We can only teach to the test so much, because when we do, especially for the younger grades, we contribute to the boredom and lack of interest in academics. In addition, we cannot adapt or change these kinds of tests.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 23, 2013:

I taught school for ten years and I am very pro-teachers. That said, does the teacher share the responsibility for the students' success or failure? Noticed that was not factored into your reasons. Altogether you made very good points. Thanks for sharing.

Jared Miles from Australia on July 23, 2013:

Hey Paul, how's it going?

First of all, I think that the best type of teacher is one that learns from their past mistakes and experiences, and uses them to further not only his or her development, but also the development of the children they teach. So congratulations for proving to me that you genuinely care about the work you do.

Secondly, well done on a clearly written Hub, and for writing skilfully about the problems you face in your job as a teacher.

Voted up, shared, and I look forward to more :)

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