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Digital Curriculum | Test Prep

7 Differences Between Digital Curriculum & Test Prep for CTE

March 8th, 2018 | 10 min. read

Chris Zook

Chris Zook

Chris Zook is a contributing author to the AES blog. He enjoys everything about online marketing, data science, user experience, and corgis.

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Digital curriculum is quickly becoming a cornerstone in career and technical education.

Test prep materials have been a cornerstone in CTE for decades.

But what are the differences between the two? Don’t they do mostly the same thing?

They do — sometimes. Other times, digital curriculum and test prep couldn’t be more different.

In general, there are seven differences between digital curriculum and test prep materials:

  1. Digital interface vs. pen and paper
  2. Differentiated instruction vs. studying for an exam
  3. Well-rounded vs. ultra-specific
  4. Subscription fee vs. pay-as-you-go
  5. Reusability vs. once-and-done
  6. Universal application vs. single application
  7. Empowering lifelong learners vs. passing an exam

The one that works best for you is the one that you should use for your classroom. Provided you have the funding, you can even use both!

But if you have to use one or the other, you should know what you’re getting, why it’s important, and — most importantly — what it lacks.

1. Digital Interface vs. Pen and Paper (Usually)


Digital curriculum is exclusively meant for use on digital devices like computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Test prep, on the other hand, has significantly lagged behind tech advancements.

Digital Curriculum: Digital Interface

The interface of a digital curriculum is a lot like any other piece of software.

You can manipulate and customize almost anything while the barebones of a curriculum remain the same.

The results are simple, fill-in-the-gaps templates that let you build a custom course in a matter of minutes.

That course can include test prep for certifications, too. You can even include test prep materials in your finished syllabus.

But they’ll probably have to be pen-and-paper resources.

Test Prep: Single-Use Pen and Paper

While test prep companies sometimes publish online tools, the vast majority of CTE certification exams are pen-and-paper. The materials are the same way.


Because test prep companies profit from reselling single-use materials. It’s guaranteed revenue for them, and the more times you order, the more times they get paid.

In addition, test prep companies want to make sure CTE test-takers get results.

After all, it doesn’t say much for test prep company if students fail after studying.

These two thoughts are major reasons why test prep companies hesitate to use digital materials.

While some companies have chosen to embrace educational technology, others have stuck with traditional single-use, pen-and-paper resources.  

2. Differentiated Instruction vs. Studying for an Exam


Another difference between digital curriculum and test prep is learning style.

Digital curriculum embraces and empowers a variety of different education strategies.

Test prep, on the other hand, only prepares students for a single particular exam.

Digital Curriculum: Differentiated Instruction

Because of how it’s designed, digital curriculum gives teachers a huge variety of options when they use it.

You can have students work independently on computers.

You can present a PowerPoint or walk through a lesson on a projector.

You can lecture.

The list goes on and on — and for good reason!

Differentiated instruction is proven to help students succeed in almost all aspects of their education, including test-taking.

That’s because differentiated instruction plays a key role in long-term information retention.

In fact, a 2007 study from the University of Pennsylvania found that one group of students far outperformed their peers when presented with differentiated instruction and their choice in learning style.

While the test itself had some issues — like using two different teachers instead of one — the results speak for themselves.

Test Prep: Studying for an Exam

Certification test prep is all about one style of learning — repetition.

Repetition works for some students, and it does well when you need to remember something short-term.  

But once the test is over, will students remember what they studied that way? 

After all, test prep is about preparing students to pass one test. Once that test is over, is the information still there?

According to the Curve of Forgetting, the odds are bad. Students — and people in general — forget about 80% of what they learn after 72 hours without proper reinforcement.

So if a student’s only reinforcement is a single test, they probably won’t retain much when they enter the workforce.

3. Well-Rounded vs. Ultra-Specific


Digital curriculum is designed for a wide range of applications — teaching, planning, grading, and more — all at once.

Test prep is ultra-specific. It gets students ready for one part of their lives, and that part of their lives won’t even last that long!

Digital Curriculum: Well-Rounded

When you use a digital curriculum, you’re not just getting a template for a syllabus.

Instead, you get a robust piece of software that lets you create courses, add lessons, change test questions, automatically track student process, and even automatically grade assessments.

In a nutshell, you get everything you need to run a successful classroom all in one easy-to-use package.

Which parts do you want to use? Which parts don’t you need?

It’s all up to you, and it’s all possible with the right digital curriculum. 

Test Prep: Ultra-Specific

As said above, test prep only readies your students to take one specific exam.

A lot of the information they learn may be about the test itself, its format, how many questions it includes, and the time they have to finish it.

In other words, it’s information that won’t help them after they get certified — especially when they go into their first career.

They won’t have to know how long they have to take the CNA exam when they become an actual nursing assistant.

It won’t matter how many questions are on the test when they’re coding medical records for an emergency room.

So not only will students probably forget a lot of the information they used to prepare for their test, they might remember information that doesn’t even apply to their careers.

Recalling the information they don’t need is just as bad as forgetting information that’d help them succeed in the workplace.

4. Subscription Fee vs. Pay-as-You-Go


A digital curriculum is priced based on a subscription, much like a newspaper or magazine.

That subscription covers everything you’ll ever have to pay, most of the time. Some companies include fine print with their pricing, but the majority will give you a fee that covers costs for the entire year.

It’s also possible to try a digital curriculum for free before you buy it, just to make sure it’s a good fit for you.

For test prep, you’re stuck buying the products that the company produces. The pricing is often non-negotiable.

Digital Curriculum: Subscription Fee

Digital curriculum is priced on the number of teachers and / or students using the software.

That means it’s a sliding scale with built-in options for affordability.

Not only that, you can try the curriculum before you buy it. That means you won’t waste precious funding on classroom resources that don’t fit your needs.  

When you do buy, you’ll only pay once for the subscription cycle of the product.

That’s usually six months or a year. At maximum, that means you have to pay two times per year.

Test Prep: Pay-as-You-Go

Pay-as-you-go isn’t necessarily a bad format for pricing.

Actually, if you only need one test prep booklet for a class, the price isn’t all that bad.

But there’s a big problem with this format.

Certification exams are updated regularly. Certain CTE career clusters — like health science — change frequently because researchers discover new facts.

Test prep companies are not the same companies that make the tests themselves.

With that in mind, it’s possible for a certification exam to get updated, but the test prep materials could fall behind.

That means it’s possible to buy outdated test prep materials that don’t set your students up to pass a certification.

Simply said, that’s money wasted.

5. Reusability vs. Once-and-Done


Digital curriculum, as a concept, is made to be reusable.

There are no set limits for logins, session durations, or anything else.

You use it as you need it, and you don’t pay for extras.

Test prep materials don’t have that luxury. Once your students use a resource, it’s gone unless it’s digital.

And as we established before, most test prep companies do not go digital.

Digital Curriculum: Reusability

When you have a course or lesson set up in a digital curriculum, you can use it as much (or as little) as you want.

It all depends on what works best for your class.

That includes allowing students to review materials on their own, recapping important points with the class, and anything else you could want to do while reviewing.

All of these options for reusability open the doors for your students to succeed.

If they didn’t absorb the information the first time learning it, they have a dozen other ways they can review it to make sure it does stick this time.

The best part is that you don’t even have to be present the whole time. Your students can remediate themselves largely on their own while you spot-check them for any help they need.

Test Prep: Once-and-Done

As we said earlier, test prep materials are mostly pen-and-paper resources.

So once you’ve used it, you’ve used it.

If a student uses test prep material and fails their exam, then they have to pay for another round of test prep materials.

That’s great revenue for the test prep company — but it’s not so great for a CTE student who’s just trying to start their career.

6. Universal Application vs. Single Application


Digital curriculum is intended to help you streamline your classroom from start to finish.

Once you have it, it’s limitless in terms of application and potential.

It’s up to you what you want to do with it.

Test prep materials are different. They often only have one purpose, and once that purpose is fulfilled, you can’t do anything else with it.

Digital Curriculum: Universal Application

Digital curriculum is made to work for anyone, anywhere, anytime.

You get the software and you start building your course the way you want to build it.

You can use as many pre-made resources as you want. You can build whatever you want from scratch.

It’s entirely up to you.

With that in mind, a digital curriculum doesn’t so much give you the solution to your classroom — it’s the universal tool that allows you to get those solutions.

It’s the Swiss army knife of education that you can pull out and put away at any point.

Test Prep: Single Application

Almost every test prep resource is designed to work once (and only once).

They’re not possible to reuse, and once you’ve already gone through test prep material, you pretty much have to throw it away.

Even once they’re done, they don’t make great review materials. Practice tests are probably the best options for remediation, but then you’ll always see the answers you already gave.

That doesn’t help when you’re trying to find the right answer.

So you spend more money to get a new practice test, try again, and feel more prepared.


7. Empowering Lifelong Learners vs. Passing an Exam


Digital curriculum is based on the ideas that every student learns differently and learning never really stops.

In that case, everyone should have a tool that lets them learn in the way that works best for them.

Test prep, on the other hand, is about passing an exam.

Digital Curriculum: Empowering Lifelong Learners

A digital curriculum is made to empower lifelong learners.

This is so true that it’s actually the core value of Applied Educational Systems.

We know that education doesn’t stop once a student leaves the classroom.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and the people who continue learning have the most potential to succeed in their careers.

For all the reasons listed previously, digital curriculum plays to students’ strengths and teacher priorities.

It’s a golden bullet that can take the edge off of long planning sessions. It can relieve the fear that new teachers feel — especially when they feel alone.  

Most importantly, it gives students the chances they need to get ahead in life.

Education levels the playing field on a worldwide scale.

When you know more, you can do more. 

Digital curriculum makes sure your students have a solid foundation so they can pursue that idea to their hearts’ content.

Test Prep: Passing an Exam

Everything we’ve said about test prep in this blog post points back to one major fact.

Test prep is all about passing an exam.

That’s important because sometimes students need to pass an exam that gets them a certification. Then, they can start their careers.

As long as a student gets a good grade, the test prep company has done its job.

But what happens to that student after they pass? Do they really have the skills they need to succeed?

Do they remember the critical information that’ll keep them compliant in their career pathway?

The answer is scary — no one knows, not even them.

Digital Curriculum vs. Test Prep: Which One Do You Need?


Digital curriculum and test prep both have their advantages and disadvantages.

But unless you want to specifically prepare students for one exam in particular, digital curriculum will probably work for you.

If you have the funding, you can even use both!

So how do you know if digital curriculum is right for you?

You can start by checking out our digital curriculum systems yourself!

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