Out Of The Mailbag: (Students Need More Tests)


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yw logo25.jpgDear YWN,  

This topic is something that I have never seen mentioned on this site before.

All through our school years, we were always subjected to tests and homework.  The rationale behind it was to reinforce what was being learned during the day.

As we got older and went to yeshivos, the number of tests that we took started to go down.

By the time we got to Bais Medrash, there were no tests at all (at least in the yeshivas that I attended).  There were some attempts at testing but for the most part, these were mainly voluntary.

I believe the reason for that is that we assume that everyone is learning the way that they are supposed to and therefore there is no need for bechinos.  I am sure that there is also an administrative issue there as well.

I feel that our yeshivos need to have regular testing to help the students retain what they are learning, but even more so, to ensure that the bochurim are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I know that for me and many of my friends, the occasional test that we had to take kept us focused on our learning.

The various Dirshu programs have incorporated this aspect into the learning.

Looking back now, I wish that bechinos would have been a regular part of the curriculum.  In college, there is no such thing as a semester without exams and major reports.

Of course, there are many fine young men in yeshivos that are learning fine without tests and I wish them continuing brocho in their learning.  However, for many (can I say more than we would like to think?), testing would be a way to help determine who is serious about their learning and who is just there biding their time until they can get married and escape.

It might even help with the “shidduch crisis” by redefining the term “learning boy”.


  1. I was so excited to see an letter to a Out Of The Mailbag article not talking about the Shidduch Crisis, but you blew it with the last line. Oh well, maybe next time.

  2. There are many people who have a harder time accomplishing for secondary reasons especially if there are ramifications. Dirshu is successful only because it is voluntary. As we get older we have to take responsibility for our own actions without trying to create extra unnecessary motivations.

  3. It is unfortunate that you only mention hebrew testing. Since when is it a crime for a child to learn something secular and forever remember such knowledge? I am a student in yeshiva and college and it is an embarrassment to see how many of the jewish boys read, write, and speak. Their vernacular consists of the lowest level words in the dictionary. Their work ethic does not match even the lowest of lowest. It is time that we stop worrying only about Hebrew studies and start focusing on secular knowledge as well.

  4. The problem is that if tests were given, most bochrim would not do well, thus they would not stay in Yeshivah, and thus the Rosh Yeshivah would have less students and raise less money.

  5. Oy!!! No more tests to grade!!! There are not enough hours in the day. Ok Maskim that Yeshivas can maybe use more Bechinas but the Girls are overloaded and the teachers are going crazy grading!!!! No more tests needed!!!! The piles keep piling up! The workload is beyond what girls need to do… lets test ’em in baking cakes and cookies and caring for kinder!

  6. While learning is tops and testing is a nice concept, we may be missing the main point — middos. Now if we could only test for middos, that would be something to talk about.

  7. i think it would be good for shidduchim(yes i know its annoying that we have to bring shidduchimn in2 every conversation-but for some of us we have to think about it 24/7) that way we would really know who a bocher is and not every bocher would be the “best boy in yeshiva” just bec they sit in yeshiva all day!

  8. random 1, nobody said to put down secular knowledge, unfortunately, it is not considered “important” to the boys in Yeshiva..as you said, it is not a crime to learn something secular and get tested but thats not the issue here…English studies in Yeshivos is a whole different story.

  9. Testing enhances learning by forcing the mind to consolidate the information learned in order to express it in a meaningful way. It also encourages chazara in a focused direction. In Europe it was often customary for the rosh yeshiva to give a “farhair” which accomplished much the same thing.

  10. I think that testing on high-level gemara really depends on the style of learning.

    If the goal in Iyun is to learn how to learn, then testing will create the problem that instead of training themselves how to learn, the guys will be busy memorizing.

    And in bekiyus, a test sheet simply makes for good chazara. Rather than testing, I would recommend simply handing out sheets and advising that people be able to answer the questions (open gemara), so they know that they remember the main points on the page. But you can’t grade such a test because bekiyus means different things to different people. Do you remember everything Rava said on every page you ever studied? Most people probably do not.

    So the goal is to have a good “kinyan” on the page, but not necessarily to be able to spit back rote answers.

    re: random1 – You are unfairly stereotyping Yeshiva students. Many, in high school, were tested and did well in their general studies, and read, write and speak English quite well. Their work ethic, a result of rigorous talmud study, gives them the ability to focus and absorb to an extent far greater than one who has never undergone the challenges of learning the talmud.

    I agree with you (and, I believe, great Rabbis like Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, of blessed memory, have said) that Yeshiva boys should (read) write and speak English very well.

    But Torah is important above all else.

    Also, some may not have the capacity to excel in both curricula; some may do better in one than the other. But keep in mind that they are learning 2 curricula when their non-Jewish peers are learning only 1.

    By the way, due in part to the above, I believe that a successful college-educated yeshiva student has as good or better chance of success in the workplace as a non-Yeshiva student does.

  11. Yeah, great idea.

    Give todays kids even more pressure. Give them more reason to feel unhappy with themselves & then stand back and watch the number of kids going off the derech double & triple.

    In the “good old days” a guy would go off the derech at 17 or 18 years old. By the time he was 21, he had enough and was coming back already.
    Today they’re going off in the 8th or 9th grade.

    Stick your head in the sand if you want to, but the problem will just get worse.

  12. i think this letter is missing a major point, there are many not so bright people who are leerning with great hasmadah, but would get discouraged if they did not do well on tests, hashem cares only about the effort put into learning, also tests emphasize only a specific aspect of learning, which is how much one can retain not how much one understands,which may lead to a decrease in time spent understanding,when there tests students typically study for a test by craming which hleps them remember it short term but does not help for long term which just leads to a waste of time that could have been spent by learning more,

  13. I agree 100%. Bochurim need to have more of a sense of achrius for their learning. The occasional sichas mussar on ameilus b’Torah does its part, but when a bochur knows he has to chazer 10 blatt by next week or else risk not doing well- he will chazer well. They could make these optional- have the reward be money/seforim money, etc.

  14. in the alter heim there were always bechinos..it’s a shame that they dont do it bazman hazeh, it would make it easier to give out degrees, since they could say they gave tests and that way learners wouldn’t have to go to secular colleges or waste time learning useless secular studies online

  15. eman, how do you know most bochurim wouldnt do well? what do you base that on? it would depend on the type of bechinos..in my yeshiva we ave reviews before bechinos and most do over 90% because of it

  16. to #7 so that means that he’s not learning & he doesn’t belong in a yeshiva also I think that what the article said is wrong but about Regents, PSAT,SAT I think thats more than enough.

  17. A very valid and important point has been raised in this letter. Personally, I went through the Yeshiva system exactly as described in your letter with, at best, one verher a zman. When I married and started learning in the Mir Kolel in Yerushalayim, I was forced to take a written test monthly on 20 blatt. At the beginning it was VERY hard but as I got used to it, it became more and more acceptable and fulfilling and now (some 15 years later) I still remember large sections of those masechtos that I actually finished (another rare phenomen in today’s yeshiva world that warrants its own Out-of-Mailbag Letter!!) and I remain SO gratefull to the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel Shlita, for giving me those wonderful years of shteiging and remembering. Without those mivchanim it would have been a wasted experience.

    Please other comments, dont be so cynical. #2 and #7, you sound almost like antisemites! Its a shame that when a sensible letter is written then it is wrecked by irrelevant and downright nasty comments.

  18. Leave things as they are, kid. What’s it you anyways? Kids will hate you for the rest of eternity if your request is granted, and rightly so. Keep out of things that are not your business, kid, if you know what’s good for you.

  19. in the beis medresh I went to we had regular testing by our mashpias. we were “farher’d” quite often. My younger brothers all tell me its the same today. I don’t know which yeshivos you are talking about.

  20. #5. Who cares what they had in Europe? Nothing in America is in any way close. You dont have a point , unless you are advocating staying stagnant and not changing to adapt to the trials and tests of the time.

    #7. I think you are in la la land…if thats what you think the rosh yeshivas life goals are about, then i feel very bad for you

  21. There are alot of people out there, that are very diligent students and take their studies very,seriously, yet when it comes to tests, they really blank out. This can discourage alot of Talmiddim to continue being diligent about their learning, because they’ll think just because they don’t excell on tests, they probably don’t know the material, which in many cases is untrue.

  22. In Europe it wasn’t as necessary as it is today. Though they had their own distractions, can anything really compare to what we have nowadays?
    If yeshivos would have an efficient bechina system, many (if not all) bochurim would shteig a lot more. I personally felt all too clearly the difference in my learning in high school with tons of bechinos and post high school-rarely any bechinos.

  23. This world is not meant to display what you know, but a side point is that we like to please Hakadosh Baruch Hu. By being tested we are taking away the Lishma part of learning by trying to prove what we know to people. Of course tests pressure the bochrim to learn, however we must focus on what our job is in life and just serve hashem lishman. Learn well!

  24. We have to remember that the main purpose of learning is “lishma” and to please hakadosh baruch hu. We have to try our best by learning to our fullist. Not everything we know has to be displayed for others by doing well on a test. we need to impress Hashem! And for a bochur that wont get 100 on a test, as long as he’s trying his best, and learning “lishem shamayion” he’s doing the right thing. Of course tests pressure the boochrim to learn , yet we just need to focus what our job is in this world and do our best we can in learning. Learn well!

  25. We know someone who took her daughters out of Prospect Park Yeshiva because the testing had become so pervasive and overwhelming, he could no longer take the crying and screaming and exhaustion.
    Do you (the reader) drive a car?
    How would you like to be pulled over and given a test three or four times a week?


  27. excellent idea! and the test results of a bochur should be available to his parents.

    there is no accountability. but it should not be about pressure or stigma – it should be basic bekios with each question worded so the shvacher bochurim can answer something too. any iyun questions should be bonus ones. that way we know bochurim are at least keeping pace, and those who want to provide themselves and their parents nachas can do so.

    too many bochurim can daydream their way through a zman.

  28. Maybe in big (hefker) yeshivos where there are thousands of bochurim/yungerleit, and not a lot of supervision do you need tests. But do you think you know better then so many of our Gedolim (I’m talking now, not europe)?!
    To #7 (a real mechutzif), and #8: what do you think will happen to a 15, 16 year old boy who does poorly on his tests? Do we need more teens at risk, with the drugs and other problems on the street today. By giving too many tests, you’re oversimplifying the definition of sucsess and failure needlessly. While I agree that there are some kollel fellows who should be more honest with themselves as to whether they should still be learning, for BOCHURIM in yeshiva, only good can come out of their being associated with a makom kodosh, and an healthey environment.
    I was once in the bais medresh of a yeshiva where the head of the high school believed in testing the bochurim extensivley. I once got into an aurguement with him over which yeshiva (my previous one, which didn’t have tests, or his) had a better system. While he contended that his boys were tested in halacha and nach, and my yeshiva hadn’t taught that even (though bochurim always learned it on their own). The argument ended when I pointed out the obvious- which yeshiva had better products. There was no more debate. The yeshiva that instilled a love of learning- not the one that treated it like physics 101 was the answer.
    To illistrate the point further, after one of their major gemara tests, I heard the following conversation between two high school bochurim:
    Bochur1 is standing in hallway having just finished his test, Bochur2 walks out of the classroom.
    Bochur2: what did you write for #6?
    Bochur1: I don’t know- Ijust wrote all that stuff I crammed in my head on the paper, and got it out of there (his head)

    By the way, the shidduch suggestion is absured- you want to reduce people not only to their neighborhoods, $, lineage, etc…, but also their GPA? (He’s an 86% average bochur- I’ll hold off until I get a 95% or higher for an eidim. Masmidim need not apply)

  29. Many valid points have been raised here. Weighing the opinions expressed, it is hard to see what a reasonable person could have against a more formal system of Bais Midrash level exams.

    I really don’t see how the speculative reasons that have been forwarded opposing tests could possibly outweight the imense gains in Hasmadah and Bekius that would undoubtedly result. Particularly surprising are those who feel that poor performance would result in self esttem issues. Firstly, we don’t seemed to be bothered by that in elementary and high schoold when younger and more emotionaly immature students stand to be “harmed ” by this effect, so why are we worried about 22 year old bochurim. Secondly, for the majority of serious learners, the result would be a inevitable boost in self esteem as they would given more tangible indications of their success.

    And to #24, you’re right. Unneccessary cynicism doesn’t do any one any good. But I think it is equally clear that the tendency to ignore real issues doesn’t either. If you and I both agree that tests would be an enormous benefit to our Batei Midrash, then we need to ask the serious question about why more Yeshivos and Roshei Yeshiva do not implement them.

    Let’s remember that Yeshivos operate on limited budgets and resources. Ultimately there is a din v’chesbon not only on how many bochurim are kept in the koslei Beis midrash for how long, but also whether we are providing the best possible opportunity to those with the best potential to become manhigim. I may not be Daas Trah, but that equation is not a simple one. In my personal experience, I saw too many less capable bochurim stay in Yeshiva indefinitely and I also saw at least one potential posek hador leave yeshiva to go to work. In my opinion that was a systemic failure. Let’s not get bogged down playing the pointless game of hiding behind siyata dishmaya and our inability to know where the most ruchniyus will ultimately come from. The bottom line is that we can and do make practical decisions on ruchniyus all the time. The Roshei Yeshiva in Europe certianly did. They accepted only the best. Perhaps times have changed but I find it difficult to imagine that the have changed so dramtically as to allow us to completely disregard objective measures of learning success.

    And to # 37, holtzichfest, (what exactly is it you’re holding fest to?) I’m sorry the letter writer’s analogy to college offended your sensibilities. As someone with both a college degree and, L’havdil, smicha I think I speak for most others with my experience in saying the the incentives provided by exams are invaluable and lead to greater practical knowledge. And if it’s shelo lishma, so be it. Mitoch shleo lishma ba lishma doesn’t have to end in 12th grade.

  30. As is often the case, this debate has degenrated into two sides trying to disprove each other by setting up extreme straw-man arguments.

    So to #41 who said:

    “Maybe in big (hefker) yeshivos where there are thousands of bochurim/yungerleit, and not a lot of supervision do you need tests. But do you think you know better then so many of our Gedolim (I’m talking now, not europe)?!”

    That’s all I and others here are saying. We are saying that having hundreds of unsupervised “yeshiva-lite” who are NEVER tested, is a unproductive waste of time and resources. Not only is the mamon hekdesh of the Yeshivah being misappropriated but the valuable time of these young men is also being mismannaged relative to a more productive BALANCE they might achive in another setting.

    Yes, I know, saying that perhaps not everone should be in Yeshivah full-time, all-the-time, means I think I know better than the Gedolim, etc. etc.

    I would ask those who react that way one question.

    How many gedolim have you actually had this conversation with in a setting where you are confident that you have gotten their true feelings on the topic? Have you actually heard from them, or are you just repeating what you THINK the gedolim believe based on the popular Yeshivishe reid?

    Everyone loves ask whether the “hockers” know better than the gedolim. I concede that I don’t. But at the same time I’m not sure I know what the gedolim actually think. I don’t hear much from them. I only hear other hockers claiming to speak for them.

  31. tvt, let me clarify a bit:
    You’re right, it does seem as if we’re more on the same page than not, and you raise a very valid point about what Gedolim ACTUALLY say, vs. what people THINK they say. My issue in particular, is NOT questioning that everyone should or shouldn’t learn full time, and NOT whether in the Yeshivos of 1000s that tests can help monitor the bochurim’s progress.
    My issue is with those that seem to dismiss the yeshivos as lacking; and the rosh yeshivas not caring about performance of their bochurim, but rather of their portfolios (see comment #7). How can we say that (here goes a non partial, random, off the top of my head list) Ner Yisroel’s, Philadelphia’s, Long Beach’s, Passaic’s, Riverdale’s, Scranton’s, Patterson’s, Telz’s, Peekskill’s etc… roshei yeshivas, shlit”a don’t know how to be mechanech properly, and they must’ve missed the boat on the whole test thing (and according to others they don’t even care, C”V)?!
    Also, I can’t say I’ve taken a formal poll of Gedolim, but I am B”H close to one, and he has told me (not in an interview about the subject, but in casual conversation), that it is important for teenage boys to be in a yeshiva atmosphere, even if they aren’t learning as they should. That doesn’t mean they should sit in kollel on other people’s cheshbon (i.e. $), but while they are in their adolescent years they should be in a kedusha infused atmosphere.
    Thanks (tvt)for debating intelligently.

  32. OY, I love putting in my two sense in a ridiculous conversation.

    In every aspect of life we encounter tests. In the work place you receive performance reviews to determine you standing within the company. In college you have different tests. Since when does testing a student’s knowledge automatically equate to teens at risk? Are you people saying we should abandon every sort of test or challenge for a teenager because they might go off the derech? Tests are the least of the worries! If they had loving parents and families that support them and encourage them to succeed in any path they choose, even if he does not want to go to Kollel and attend college ( KEFIRAH!!), maybe they won’t need to rebel! If colleges have exams every few weeks in every course, why do you think a yeshiva should be different? Because the gedolim didn’t say so? Maybe if you approached a Rosh Yeshiva with this idea he might agree!

    If Yeshvious & Kollel had exams, it might be a better way to root about bochurim who are not meant to sit and learn. This way yeshivous expenses go down and this bochur can not became an official Bal Hobos that supports the yeshiva. In the “Alter Haim”, even some Gedolim, were challenged to either excel in yeshiva or become an apprentice.
    Not sitting in Kollel is not the end of the world.

  33. The writer brings up an excellent point, but with no simple answer. There is no doubt that regular testing will force good bochurim to retain more of what they learn and have them cover a requisite amount of blatt/sugyos or whatever standard is required by each yeshiva. It will also weed out those boys that should not be wasting ppls time and money being in yeshiva. For some boys who dont test well other standards or farhers could be used. Most bochurim and kolleleit should be focussed on a goal such as chinuch or rabbanus and not just learning for the sake of learning. Its a wonderful mitzvah but not on someone else’s dime. There are yichidim who should only learn forever. The rest need to work towards a goal. Learning some lessons how it works in the world of universities is not a bad or tumadik idea at all. If it works there then it can be emulated under the right circumstances in the yeshiva world too. As long as no one is willing to improve the current system, the comments like #7 are going to happen.

  34. Krunch,

    You’re welcome.

    It’s nice to have some normal discourse.

    So it seems then that we agree with the Rosh Yeshiva to whom you are close that teens belong in Yeshiva. (I’m also inferring from your quote of the conversation with him that he wouldn’t necessarily extend that to all older bochurim.) We also agree that older bochurim (20-25+) don’t necessrily have to be there.

    So the question remains, why do the overwhelming majority of yeshivos and their respective Roshei Yeshivah not take action in that direction.

    It’s not my agenda to suggest chas v’sholom that they don’t care or know. It’s just that we live in a very complicated society with an enormous volume of conflicting interests. Roshei yeshiva are humans too, and it can be very difficult to effect change.

    So what it comes down to is this. If, as people like you and I suspect, we have a culture that is more reflective of social trends and inertia than of genuine Daas Torah, what can be done to enable the Rabbonim and Roshei yeshiva to speak their minds more freely.

    Of course, my question presumes that they currently aren’t speaking their minds freely and clearly there are those who would disagree with me. But I have heard too many annecdotes (from people I believe are in a position to know) alledging that our Rabbonim and Roshei yeshivah feel powerless to change things notwithstanding their better judgement.

    If that is true, it is a tragedy that threatens the integrity of our mesorah.

  35. Perhaps Avrohom Oveenu should not have been tested by Hashem?
    It is teststhat give an incentive to study and a way to know how well or poorly the student is learning and the teacher teaching.The boys;high schools don’t test enough,the girls get too many,are all complaints that come from an attitude that boys only learn Torah and let the girls learn how to cope. Just by looking at the writing of most of the previous posts one gets a taste of the immaturity and lack ofeducation our men have today. Illiteracy is nothing to be proud of.A good education,both secular and Torah need testing in order to achieve maximum results.Regular testing gives one a challenge to achieve.Everybody tests himself if he makes a daily cheshbon hanefesh.If not,one would never realize where he’s lacking,what needs repair and will never do teshuva. Tests train you to be disciplined and responsible.

  36. To Mr. Random1 there are a plethora of grammatical mistakes in your diminutive “rant”, and I find you’re vernacular to be of the same quality as my 5 year old daughter. You wrote “Their vernacular consists of the lowest level words in the dictionary. Their work ethic does not match even the lowest of lowest. It is time that we stop worrying only about Hebrew studies and start focusing on secular knowledge as well. I will not squander my time in fixing your mistakes in the aforementioned exposition. However I will deduct that you yourself are a “yeshiva boy”, but a smart one and with unprecedented potential if only you would write with your heart and head and not just khals panim .

  37. Your grammatical errors: A) colon after Random1 B)you never end your quote C)the word by instead of in C) Comma after “however” D) Period goes within quotes not outside of quotes. See: “rant”

  38. Unlike you I did not take out the time to critique your mistakes because I just don’t care this is a blog and not a thesis. However I noticed you did not mention anything about my accolades but took umbrage from my constructive criticism. This show a lot about your character Mr.______ oh I forgot you hide behind an alter ego.