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Is a test always best?

So, apparently, I have a habit of starting a post and not finishing it... I began this one yesterday. I really struggle with using other forms of assessment - presentations, projects, conversations - with a group of students whose final grade is determined A) primarily from an exam and B) by someone other than myself.  

From yesterday...
As I sit here finishing up a set of unit tests written by my grade 12 students, I have to wonder, is this the best way for them to tell me what they know?  Is this the best way for them to prepare to write a standard, international examination?
The answer to the first question, for many students, is a resounding, "NO!"  While they may understand the content, and be able to make connections between different concepts, when faced with test questions that ask them to explain what they understand or make those connections, they often fall short.
However, when I consider that 80% of their mark comes from an examination that is written and assessed by the IBO, I would be shirking my duties as a teacher if we didn't at least practice writing tests with questions similar to those they might see on the May exam.  And since a requirement of IB is predicting a final grade for my students, I need to have an idea of how they will perform on this test that none of us will see until the day they write it.
What are your thoughts on testing? Is performance on a test the best indicator of performance on another test?

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