Project Based Learning vs Examination Learning


Minjoo Song

Since 1994, Bergen County Academies (BCA), located in Hackensack, New Jersey, was primarily known to be a big advocate for Project Based Learning. In more recent years, however, there has been a major shift, revolving most teaching methods around assessments. This leads to a big question: which method is more effective for learning?

All students at BCA experience frequent test taking throughout their time at the school, and that’s perfectly normal for all high school students. One may argue, however, that students at BCA  undergo a far more rigorous curriculum due to their excessive  amounts of assessments – more than the average highschool student. 

Most BCA students express dislike for examinations. In a survey with 52 student-based responses, more than 46% of students  express that they do not like assessments. 48.1% of students are neutral in regards to examinations, and only 5.8% like them. 

The effectiveness of exams remains questionable. According to Edutopia, a George Lucas Educational Foundation, not all kinds of testing is bad, contrary to popular belief. However, the formatting is crucial. Researchers have found “that tests can be valuable tools to help students learn, if designed and administered with format, timing, and content in mind—and a clear purpose to improve student learning.” 

One of the most effective forms of assessment are quick and easy exams, formatted like a practice-quiz. Edutopia adds that tests have the capability to be “especially beneficial if they are given frequently and provide near-immediate feedback to help students improve.” So, this debunks the common belief and proves that exams can be, in fact, useful for students’ learning – as long as they are proctored properly.   However, an important question still remains unanswered:  why do BCA students dislike them?

In the same 52 response survey, over 40% of BCA students believe that assessments are not an effective approach to learning, while 30.8% of students find them to be somewhat effective. However, after taking exams, it is noted that an alarmingly 84.6% of students retain only some to none of the information. 

It’s not all that bad though. Majority of the students believe that assessments in math, science, and world language are indeed helpful. The other subjects, however, prove to be ineffective. Unlike assessments, BCA students seem to prefer Project Based Learning (PBL) a lot more. Project Based Learning is, according to PBL Works, “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.” PBL allows the student to take charge of their own learning at a personalized pace.

Overall, BCA students have a positive outlook on Project Based Learning. According to the survey, 82.7% of students are in favor of PBL and find it to be extremely beneficial towards their learning process. This can be assumed from the fact that PBL, in most cases, does not add as much of a burden as frequent assessments. Additionally, PBL’s primary focus is adapting learning to the student’s pacing, so it is far more convenient to work with.

Furthermore, 94.3% of BCA students note that they are able to retain some to all of the information when partaking in PBL – a notable difference when compared to assessments. Students have much better results from PBL, so despite the varieties of work and thinking that may be involved, it is undoubtedly a more effective method to use when educating students.

BCA students also believe that PBL is extremely flexible no matter the subject, with most responses saying that it is helpful in a variety of subjects: science, history, English, and world language. Additionally, some students add that PBL is highly accommodating  for special  courses such as computer science, business, and engineering.

So, which proves to be a more productive approach to learning: assessments or PBL? From the information gathered and research that has been conducted, it mainly depends on the content. Assessments are most effective when formatted in a direct and simple way for review purposes, while PBL is more effective for content-heavy topics, as it provides many opportunities for the student to learn at their own pace and branch out to subjects that interest them most. 

One thing is for sure, however : PBL is becoming more and more popular, with schools now incorporating PBL into their curriculum and teaching methods. With that in mind, it is important to place emphasis on ensuring that students are truly learning and utilizing what is being taught to them, not just regurgitating information.