Standardized tests inaccurately judge student abilities


Bronte Segura

Junior Sarah Burnham looks over ACT and SAT information in the College and Career Center.

Like many high schoolers today, I am a college-bound student and have done everything in my power to make sure I land myself in a university after high school. Between playing a sport, doing volunteer work and earning good grades in honors and AP classes, I thought college was in the bag. But, unfortunately, my history with standardized tests and my level of success with them (or lack thereof) would say otherwise. Since eighth grade, I have taken the EXPLORE test, PLAN test, a practice ACT and the PSAT (twice); my scores don’t reflect all the work I have put forth in the classroom. My projected ACT and SAT scores are not promising, and are much lower than the average test scores of the schools I am looking at. Standardized test scores have the potential to bar me from my dream school despite having everything else under my belt.

I can’t answer 50 questions in 30 minutes. I don’t know the best speed-testing strategies because I have never had to use them in the actual classroom. I can’t read something quickly and comprehend it the first time when I’m on a time crunch. Does that mean I am incapable of being successful at the college level?

For me, along with other students, standardized tests are the enemy, but there are some reasons they are still alive and kicking.  According to Columbia University’s Office of Work and Life, proponents cite that standardized tests are a feasible means of a selective university knowing who really has what it takes. The tests serve as a way of sorting out the kids with 4.0’s, but clearly only took the easiest classes offered, from the kids who earned, say, a 3.3 in all advanced courses. It puts all the kids at the same level of rigor as one another and is the “purest” way of evaluating their academic prowess.

Instead of evaluating a kid’s intelligence or academic abilities, what ACT and SAT really test are test-taking strategies and speed. This is where I am strongly disadvantaged. I am a good reader in the sense that I can understand a complicated text and deeply analyze it. It just takes me about two times longer than most students to do that. I am good at any subject, so long as I have the ability to practice it over and over and notice all of the details. I am an inherently meticulous and careful person, and timed standardized tests do not allow room for this.

ACT and SAT prep classes further emphasize this fact. I have taken all the classes, done all the Princeton Review pre-test nonsense, and there is an overwhelming focus on speed and strategy rather than content. On the ACT specifically, the English section asks you to answer 75 questions in the span of 45 minutes, making it hard to believe that these college entrance exams are anything more than a race. The prep work I have done has taught me to pick a goal score and omit a portion of section. It has taught me to pick a letter and fill it in across the board when I reach the 5-minute warning. It has taught to me to hunt for the answers rather than getting the full context of the passage. Throughout school, I was always taught to complete the work, not to purposefully do the minimum number of questions it takes to earn a certain score.

The SAT and ACT are supposed to be able to predict your success at the college level, since college curriculum is vastly different and is so much more rigorous than high school’s. But when speed and strategy are the bulk of the skills being exhibited, potential college success is not accurately measured. In college, yes, there is a significantly larger work load, which may require sheer efficiency at some times. But there are also fewer school hours in college. Many university students are only in school for about three to five hours per day to make the workload more manageable. Yes, it is a fact, that sometimes in school you need to be able to do something quickly. But for the most part, college success is based off of content knowledge, which is not the major barrier to break, nor the skill truly tested, when taking the ACT or SAT.

I know I speak for many other students when I say that I know how to study hard, I know how to earn an A, I know how to overcome challenges in the classroom, but cannot sprint through a test under pressure. I may not ever earn the coveted 36 or 2400. Will a college admissions officer really disregard four years of hard work in the name of a four-hour long test? Only the acceptance letter can tell me.