Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

It’s early on a beautiful Saturday morning, and I am sitting in a classroom full of strangers, exhausted and sick and ready to go home. But I can’t— not until I finish bubbling in the dozens of answers that partially determine my future.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 9.23.35 AM

Photo credit: Michelle Joyce via GettyImages

“A standardized test is any form of test that (1) requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from common bank of questions, in the same way, and that (2) is scored in a ‘standard’ or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students.” I dislike these tests for several reasons. Like some of my classmates whom I spoke to about the issue, I see the value in having an easy, baseline comparison for universities to have when reviewing thousands and thousands of applications each year. However, the system is extremely flawed. The tests are unfair in many ways, and I don’t feel that they truly serve as a baseline for intelligence, especially since they are timed and taken in an environment of high pressure and anxiety.

Veritas Prep, described as “the world’s largest privately-owned test preparation and admission consulting provider” on its own website, posted an article in 2012 titled “Why Smart Students Struggle with the SAT”. Shaan Patel, the author and Director of SAT Programs at Veritas Prep, outlines why students who do well in school sometimes underperform on the SAT. The list of explanations, which is basically an advertisement for Veritas Prep, ranges from “Being Overconfident” to “Not Being an Avid Reader” (a huge generalization that has no evidence to back it up). My personal favorite was, “Arguing with the Test,” as I felt that this highlights a flaw of standardized testing. While it’s true that tests like the SAT often provide more than one right answer for reading and writing sections, and require the test taker to select the best one, it seems strange that students who feel that they have a solid argument for their answer are discouraged from explaining their opinion. This is a flaw in the system, as I believe that kids should be encouraged to support their own opinions and ideas, not forced to accept the predetermined solution. “An inference on an open-ended high school English exam and an inference on the SAT are two very different things,” the article states. “In high school, smart students can often get away with answers that are not 100% correct simply by providing a compelling argument for their answer. However, the SAT Reading section is graded by a machine, not an English teacher.” Being able to so strongly argue their own opinion that they convince the teacher they are correct is, in my opinion, an important skillset for high school students and pretty much everyone to have. Why should we encourage tests that tell students they must accept one and only one correct answer, especially to questions that require test takers to draw inferences based on a fairly open-ended passage?

SAT and ACT scores can be improved with tutoring and constant practice, which proves that they are not truly a standard measure of intelligence. Many students that I spoke to have taken the tests again after working with a tutor and seen dramatic improvement in their scores. Some scores go from bad to average, average to good, good to great, and jump up even more than one level. This is not a measure of intelligence, as the tests claim to be. Rather, this shows that people can memorize and rehearse their way to higher scores. If the tests are truly designed to measure intelligence and skill relative to other test takers, shouldn’t it only be fair for each student to take the test one time so that their results are indicative of their own intelligence, rather than the amount of work they have put into increasing their scores? I am not necessarily an advocate for a one-time-only requirement for standardized testing. I just want to point out the flawed logic behind assessments that supposedly measure intelligence but actually indicate how well someone takes a test and how much time and money they put into preparing for it.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 9.25.08 AM

Photo credit: Roy Mehta via GettyImages

Time and money certainly factor into the ability of students to do well on tests as well. The Princeton Review, one of the most well-known names in standardized testing preparation, offers courses for ACT prep. The Fundamentals course, which is the most basic class that I found, starts at $699. When I searched the cost of ACT tutoring classes offered by Princeton Review in the same zip code as Collegiate, tutoring packages cost at a minimum of $999 to as much as $6,600. When I searched other zip codes, I found similar results. Many families simply cannot afford to pay for this, but those who can often see much higher scores as a result of tutoring or classes. This is extremely unfair. Students who can’t afford tutoring are at a major disadvantage, and SAT, ACT, and other scores can be deciding factors for not only admission to college but also for scholarships and merit money. Why should a smart student who can’t afford to pay for tutoring for standardized tests not be awarded money given to students who can afford tutoring? Many times, a student’s ability to go to college is dependent on scholarship money. Is it fair to award this money based on test scores that already unfairly favor more affluent students?

I am tired of feeling as though my self-worth is defined by a set of numbers that tell colleges how well I can memorize the format of a test and regurgitate answers after hours of tutoring and practice problems. In recent years, many colleges such as Christopher Newport University, George Washington University, and Virginia Commonwealth University have stopped requiring SAT and ACT scores for their applications, or have made them optional. I’m a fan of this movement away from required test scores, as is Kim Ball, a college counselor at Collegiate. “I think it’s a great way to go,” she said. “I think it’s been shown that testing does not do a great job of predicting a student’s performance once they’re in college.” Wake Forest University has been test-optional since 2008 because, according to their website, they “think that the measure of [applicants’] intelligence and potential requires a deeper dive. It’s about life experience, aspiration, work ethic, engagement… Numbers rarely tell the whole story.”

Editors’ Note: The opinions published by The Match are solely those of the authors, and not of the entire publication or its staff as a whole. The Match welcomes thoughtful commentary and response to our content. You can respond in the comments below, but please do so respectfully. Letters to the Editors will be published, but they are subject to revision based on content and length. Letters can be sent to match@collegiate-va.org.

About the author

Ellie is a senior at Collegiate.