Written Tests for Belt Promotions

It’s potentially interesting to note that there have been no written examinations for black belt promotions in America for several years.

I believe that Taido requires intellectual understanding as well as physical ability, and as a result, have always taught in a manner that I feel provides both. When Bryan and I began discussing the possibility of promoting students to black belt, we had no doubts as the quality of our teaching, but we were concerned about the quality of the evaluation.

To that end, we decided that we would require a written examination and essay/creative component in addition to the physical test administered by the american headquarters. I’ve discussed the hokei assignment previously. In writing the theory exam, I wanted to be careful that the questions were actually testing the things I hope to have taught. For those of you with no experience at test-writing, i’ll let you know right now that it is difficult to write a good test – this from someone whose job requires him to do it often.

I feel pretty strongly that rote is awful pedagogy, so I wanted to avoid a test that would allow a passing score by simple memorization. The idea was to attempt to test not knowledge, but understanding of Taido’s theory. Understanding combined with practice leads to mastery (says I). I put this exam together carefully, attempting to focus on open-ended prompts rather than questions with one-word answers. I did include some simple vocabulary, but there was no memorization required.

Instead, I made a provision that candidates could consult reference materials to a certain degree (though they still had to work within a time limit) rather than force them to memorize anything. The catch is that they had to convince me in their answers that they actually understand the concept. I felt pretty confident to judge this because I have read just about everything ever written about Taido in english – at least all of it that has been made publicly available. Besides that, knowing the candidates well gives me an advantage to determine their grok-level.

On the black belt written test I took, I had to write word-for-word the Taido 5jokun. I had to memorize all of the unsoku jigata patterns. I had to know the doko5kai in japanese and be able to explain it in english. Understanding these things has helped me immensely, but memorizing them has done little for my Taido. On this exam, I told the candidates to look up the answers and interpret their own meanings.

The acid test for each prompt I included on this exam was “Will answering this question demonstrate potential for mastery?” In some places it may not be so obvious how that stipulation was met, but as I mentioned, knowing the candidates allows me to extrapolate meaning from the manner in which they responded. Lexical and syntactic decisions betray a lot about the level of a person’s familiarity with a subject (provided you know how to decode that meaning – and I spent a good deal of university study developing just that capacity).

It was interesting to me to read the responses and think to myself “OK, that comes from my article on Taido/Blog”, or “that comes from a pamphlet I printed up a few years ago,” or “that’s straight from Alvar’s .pdf.” I did deduct points in places where I felt that the candidate seemed to value a “correct” answer over their own answer, but usually, I was very impressed to find that, even in cases in which I could see a particular influence, the candidates gave serious thought to the prompts and responded with a Taido answer to the best of their present levels of understanding.

And so that’s how it went. I’m glad we did this test, and will be making similar exams for future black belt candidates from my clubs.

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