To test or not to test….

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    Lol…finally the year is complete and I am already planning for next year. What I would like to know is how many playing tests you give in your performance ensembles? Do you test from the music or on scales/etudes? Do you ever assess on terms and theory? What kind of rubrics do you use for assessment? Do you have creative ways to assess without actually taking too much rehearsal time? I’d love to hear your ideas..looking to liven things up….




    I am currently a college senior and observing a middle school every week. I have noticed that the director tests the student once a week. It takes twenty minutes total to test all the students (43+ students), and he usually divides these twenty minutes between two days.

    He tests the students on pieces out of the Essential Elements book. The students have this testing routine in their schedule and know what is expected out of them. The director sits at the front of the class with his computer and types advise and comments for the students to read. He posts their results on the Progress Book website that the school uses. This is easy access for the parents and students to review. I am sure if the progress book is not available at your school, you can send out “progress reports” to parents. There is a rubric he uses that he can quickly assess students, but just enough time to write comments. Don’t forget: it is best if you give students verbal comments too!!

    The most important thing I have learned from this director is when you are testing never go section by section. It is best to randomly choose students. This is a good classroom management skill because students are always on the edge of their chair ready for their testing. They are usually fingering through the piece each time someone tests so the focus is on the music the whole time.

    Best of luck to you and your testing!


    I test every week, but not every person. When I ran a beginning band everyone tested every week. I always mix it up though, sometimes I test “trios” sometimes sections and sometimes individuals. I always tell the students what to expect, of course.

    In order to keep the time to a minimum, I never test over whole songs and, if I am hearing them during class time, the students get one chance.

    I have also packed the kids off with cheapo digital recorders and had them record themselves and assessed from the recording, and I have used SmartMusic, which works somewhat similarly. These are by far the smallest class time eaters, but you do miss the opportunity for immediate feedback.

    Once we passed through the method books, (and with the high school program I’m currently with) when we find something in the literature a section is having trouble with, I give them a time frame and a grouping, and they tell me the day they think they will be ready to play it. I note that in my score and we stick to it. “Flutes, I’d like to hear this section in the next ten rehearsals. You’ll play it in trios. When do you think you will be ready to get an “A” on it?” or “3rd trumpets, you guys are too important to not have this part down. I’d like to hear each of you individually sometime this week. You have until Friday to grab recorder number 3 out of the box and put an “A” track on it. I’ll listen to them over the weekend.”

    Also, check out for an easy way to build rubrics.

    Hope this helps,


    I test kids a lot in Middle school, not as much in High school. In middle school I have a list of tests in the book. They are pass fail and kids need to pass 6 a quarter for an A on their test grade. More tests count as extra credit. They are the quizzes in the book plus other tunes that are important, even bits of assigned music. They can also propose tunes for a test and if hard enough I let them do it. You may do tests multiple times, I give a bonus if they pass the first time. We save some time during class for tests and kids do them at lunch, after school and during advisory. I also accept test done on video on phones or tablets and via email. When kids make videos of themselves it really helps them. I do tests at hs almost all on ipads. They will typically be the hardest 16 measures of a piece, but could also be a scale with a drone for pitch reference. We also do scales for tests solo/soli. When doing this the whole class plays together then one student, together then one, etc. I usually flim it and grade it later. It takes about 2 minutes for a 30 kid class and everyone is playing through the scale 30 times.

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