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What is the difference between a test and an examination?

What is the difference between a test and an examination

As a teacher or an online syllabus creator, assessing your students' understanding is one of the most important things you can do. Or the best way to find out if the class or lesson has fulfilled its objective.

The only way of determining that is through undergoing a series of assessments such as tests and examinations.

By comparison, a test is a brief periodic assessment and is not as crucial as an examination. However, on the other side, an examination is a more serious assessment often conducted towards the end of a year or a semester.

Words like test and examination are always confusing because they are used interchangeably for all purposes.

Though there are times when one of the terms does not fit a particular purpose, which necessarily should not be the case if both terms are used interchangeably. But a case like this happens due to a subtle difference between a test and examination.

The basic places where both terms are used are schools, universities, and colleges. Students must undergo a variety of tests and examinations in class before being promoted to the next level.

If that is the case, then what is the difference between a test and examination?

Difference between a test and an examination.

Usually, the common differences between these two words are mostly related to their usage. Most of the time, tests and examinations are used as synonyms.

In the educational field, the two terms refer to inspecting the students' knowledge and understanding.

For instance, tests are a collection of questions used to gauge the student's grasp on a specific lesson. To effectively have a comprehensive test, you can employ the various test creation tools such as online testing software or test maker.

On the other hand, an exam is a more official kind of test that measures students' understanding in a series of lectures.

These two terms are also used often in other disciplines such as medicine, driving, and other operational procedures. In this post, we will let you understand more about the terms and the differences between both.

What is a test?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a test as a series of problems, questions, or physical reactions designed to measure the ability, knowledge, or intelligence.

As discussed earlier, tests are quick questions or designed physical responses a teacher gives the students at the end of a lesson. This test lets the teacher understand if whatever he has been teaching is absorbed by the students.

A test is not formal and is generally done at the class level. A teacher takes some of the teaching time to oversee this assessment. The students give answers either written or orally, which are used to evaluate their understanding of the lesson.

A test may add to some smaller percentage of the final grade as compared to an examination. And sometimes, it does not even count in the final exam grade.

Notably, the makeup of tests varies according to lecturers or teachers and the type of teaching method; however, it's common for a test to feature various kinds of questions depending on the online testing software used.

These questions may be in the form of different strategies such as true-false, multiple-choice, matching, listing, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions.

A good instructor improves the teaching method and course materials according to the outcome of the tests he gives out to the students.

These results tell the teacher or lecture the part of his lesson, which is not clear. Or the areas that need extra attention for students to pass the final examination.

Apart from education, the word test is also frequently used in the medical field. For example, the procedure of checking if your blood or eyesight is called a test, that is blood test and test respectively.

Furthermore, a test can also refer to a test of actions; for instance, if you can remember getting a driving license, one is required to undergo a driving test. The test measures the level of how you can perform the action of driving.

What is an examination?

Referring to the American Heritage Dictionary, an examination, always called an exam, is more formal. In the educational field, exams mean a mid-term or end year test. It is an assessment that tests your understanding of a number of units.

Unlike a test that measures your understanding of a particular lesson, an examination covers all the course areas learned in a number of classes.

Due to this broad coverage, an exam is usually longer (extended enough that the instructors allow hours instead of minutes to be done.).

Another notable contrast between a test and examination is that there are special places that you sit and set rules you follow when undertaking an examination. For instance, you are accorded an exact time limit to answer the questions. Once the time is over, you stop, and the papers are collected.

Some exam questions also have practical parts included in them. Such tests have a significant impact on your final grades at the university or college the most.

While some teachers do not use exams totally, but those who do usually make it a more significant part of your final marks for the end of term or year.

Examinations determine whether you passed or fails a course or class. If a student fails, they are generally required to re-sit the exam paper or retake the entire course.

Apart from the education set up, the term examination is also frequently used in the medical field. Unlike tests that focus on a specific area, such as an eye test or blood test, an examination is an extensive and more general body assessment to verify that there is nothing wrong.

For instance, a physical examination is a comprehensive body assessment to ensure that the body is in a good state.

The term exam is widely used in the written form of the English language. Indeed, there are instances that you use when talking. But, mostly, you find that people apply the term test to refer to an exam when talking.


Obviously, an examination is the most important aspect of assessment compared to tests between the two terms. However, suppose you perform well in all the tests. In that case, it is an additional advantage to you as it detracts from the difficulty you will get during the final exams.

Technically, there is no need to work yourself too much about tests; an hour or two of revision should be enough for a test.

However, for examinations, an ideal strategy is to be updated with your studies and class works. It needs in-depth revisions that cover up to the works of the previous lessons. Doing this will determine the outcome of your final grades.

Do not disregard tests; while they may only contribute 10-15% of your total marks, they are equally important. If you are not keen low marks on a test may drag you so low that the best you can settle for is a pass in your end-year exams.


Having understood the subtle difference in the terms test and examination usage, let's conclusively explore other factors of considerations that support the existence of a difference between the terms.

  • By definition.

In an education setting, a test is a brief and less important assessment aimed at gauging students' knowledge after a particular lesson.

While in other disciplines, a test is a way of establishing the quality, efficiency, and reliability of something before taken into commercial use. And on the medical field, it means a special assessment was done on a particular part of the body, e.g., blood test or eye test.

On the other hand, an examination is defined as a comprehensive inspection or study. It is a formal assessment of a person's proficiency and understanding of a subject or skill.


  • By Etymology.


These two words exist both as nouns, while the test is both a noun and a verb depending on the usage situation.

The verb test dates back to the early 17th century, late Middle English (indicating the copal used treating silver or gold alloys). It came through Old French Town from Latin testum, testu as a variant of testa "earthen pot" or jug shell.

Conversely, the term examination also originated from the Late Middle English (referring to testing a person's conscience using set benchmarks.). Traveling through Old French Town from an Indo-European language examinare 'weigh or test.'

In regards to the assessment period, a test checks the shorter duration of the study, for example, a few lessons. In contrast, an examination checks the longer term of studies such as end-term or end year exams.

Remember that the terms are also applied in the medical field to mean different procedures.

For instance, a test refers to a specific assessment of a particular body area, e.g., a blood test. In contrast, an examination is a more extended and more comprehensive test to verify that nothing is wrong in the body.

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