"Teaching to the test" is the colloquial phrase describing the practice of teaching "a narrow subset of skills that will increase test performance rather than focus on deeper understanding that can readily be transferred to similar problems",[1] and is a common criticism levelled at SATs, the standardised testing used in state schools in England. The result is the ability to quickly answer superficial questions that do not require real thought or measure the ability to think or create in any field, and a narrowed curriculum.

In July 2006 the Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts stated that "too many teachers now found themselves under enormous pressure not to teach their subject, but to teach to the test." He also said that between the ages of 4 and 19, the average pupil sat 105 tests and was externally assessed in four out of five years from 13 to 18, which meant pupils had "two years being taught about the examination papers and not actually learning anything worthwhile".[2]

In October 2008 the Government abolished SATS exams for 14 year olds. A House of Commons select committee report earlier in 2008 concluded:

We believe that the system is now out of balance in the sense that the drive to meet government-set targets has too often become the goal rather than the means to the end of providing the best possible education for all children...

This is demonstrated in phenomena such as teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum and focusing disproportionate resources on borderline pupils [at the expense of those who look certain to do well, or to do badly, in the test].[3]

Head teachers had told the committee that some schools spend almost half of all lesson time preparing for tests in the final four months of the year.


  1. Problems with standardized tests Wikipedia. Retrieved 12 March 2009
  2. Jozefkowicz, Ewa. Too many teachers 'teaching to the test'. The Guardian. 20 July 2006. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  3. Conclusions and Recommendations "Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Third Report" 31 May 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2009.