Mentioning fitness testing to a class of P.E. students doesn’t always promote positive responses. For many adolescent girls, the cardiovascular test, which traditionally involves either the one-mile run or the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run (the P.A.C.E.R.), can be extremely difficult. The P.A.C.E.R. Test consists of running back and forth between two sets of cones set 20 meters apart. An audio CD that includes an instructional voice and music plays in the background along with a timed beep. Kids run to the other set of cones before the next beep sounds, which gets progressively faster with time.

Carol Wilkinson, a Physical Education Teacher Educator in the Teacher Education Department, wanted to find out more about how adolescent girls felt about cardiovascular fitness testing to try and create a more positive experience for them. She asked, “Do they prefer one test over the other?” and, “Do they understand why they’re doing it?” Because, as Wilkinson stated, “One of the purposes of fitness testing is to help children and youth get into healthy fitness zones. We don’t want fitness testing to be a miserable experience for them,” she said.

Wilkinson and a then master’s student, Lanell Brown, who currently teaches at Lakeridge Junior High School in Orem, conducted a study on students’ preference and experience with cardiovascular testing. Brown collected the data from her own school, from girls in six 7th-9th grade P.E. classes.

"Many adolescent girls are at risk for unhealthy lifestyles. Helping girls understand the importance of physical activity and giving them positive experiences in physical education classes may help to increase their physical activity."

Three classes ran the mile first and the other three ran the P.A.C.E.R. After an intermediate unit, the two groups switched and took the alternate test. Students participated in both fitness tests twice and then filled out a questionnaire based on their experiences. Reviewing the girls' comments, Wilkinson chose to interview those who really liked and disliked the P.A.C.E.R., and really liked and disliked the mile. She found that 62% of the girls interviewed preferred the P.A.C.E.R. “Many of the girls expressed that it was less stressful to them because it wasn’t a competition or what they viewed as a 'huge, formidable test,' like the mile."

“There seems to be a psychological effect with the mile run for many girls,” Wilkinson said. “Running 20 meters at a time is a small, reachable goal, which some of the slower kids can do without getting far behind the others.”

However, some girls mentioned that they didn’t like the P.A.C.E.R. because when they dropped out, everyone observed them doing so.

The girls who preferred the mile run said they liked being outdoors. The run also gave them the chance to chat with their friends, although they still found the run more physically challenging than the P.A.C.E.R.

Wilkinson remarked that though 62% preferred the P.A.C.E.R. over the mile run, P.E. teachers shouldn’t ignore the remaining 38% who prefer the mile run. “Since we’re trying to create a more motivating environment,” Wilkinson said. “Let’s give them a choice of which test to complete.”