Christie said "Performance under the stress of taking an examination does not transfer to performance under stress in the real world. Lots of literature in psychology research confirms this if you do a quick search on Google scholar".
I'm not arguing that testing (in itself) makes you better at dealing with stress (or that time-served in MA testing should be inflexible, which is ridiculous), but that tests can show how well you have been training to handle stressors. They can be an indicator of the success of training, demonstrated for all to see and judged by several people who might not have the biases of a single instructor.
Test-taking is predictable, and as such can be prepared for. Much real-world stress is also predictable -- you can see it coming. Training contains nicely scheduled stressors -- you turn up on Tuesday evenings ready for stress. It has long been known that training helps buffer the effects of later acute stress (eg. Weiss, Glazer, Pohorecky, Brick and Miller 1975). Students required to solve math problems under stress show better performance in a test phase with a new stressor (Vossel and Laux 1978). What tests do is evaluate the skills people have internalized during training. Past a certain level, people's performance deteriorates under stress. The more "normalized" stress is, the less performance deteriorates. Training seems also to generalize to new stressors, so that they are experienced as less stressful (Franken, 1982).
So, you have trained. Your instructor thinks you have reached a certain level. If you have, you can demonstrate it to people who are not emotionally invested in your training -- in a test.
With regards to people training "just for the test", and therefore ending up as substandard martial artists, I have to agree with that to some extent. Perhaps it's up to instructors to discourage that kind of motivation, by their own observable attitude and behavior, by increasing the scope of testing (some styles even include essays on philosophical points (!) or by specifically discussing the attributes of "competent martial artists". Without tests which involve judgment of external observers, a club could get a bit ingrown, without any external point of reference or standard.
That said though, getting a belt in martial arts isn't like graduate school -- "getting in" doesn't suddenly provide you with all your future possibilities. Passing the GRE can give you the chance to use university facilities to grow, and clears the way to a qualification that can decide your future career. With martial arts, it's the training that's the whole point. Belts are nice, but they don't have any meaning in the world at large, whereas your skill level (irrespective of belt) does.
Edited by hope (11/05/11 07:23 PM)
God grant me a good sword and no use for it. -- Polish proverb