Standardized Testing; a Mixed Blessing

Maya Anandan

Standardized testing; the bane of every student’s experience. While administered across most schools, both public and private around the world, it is a controversial topic that has ignited discussion and debate over the last few decades. Why? Students are judged on the basis of their performance on these tests which do not always correlate with their learning at school. Let’s take a closer look at both sides of the argument to help us better prepare for these exams.

The Pros

Through standardized tests, schools can acquire a beneficial metric that can be used to evaluate the curriculum and whether it works for their students or not. Standardized tests are a neutral source of data that can be benchmarked with data from other international / independent schools around the world. Schools can pinpoint areas for growth and improvement, not only for the performance of their students, but for the development of the overall school curriculum. 

Standardized tests also allow students to develop advanced study habits because they require not only theoretical understanding, but regular and repeated practice as well. Students are encouraged to spend 10 hours on SAT preparation per school week; many end up spending double that amount. Although extremely tiresome, practice forces students to develop study habits and drive. 

The Cons

A disadvantage of standardized testing is that a student’s ability and performance may be judged solely on their test results. There are students who are more comfortable with taking tests, and others who are not. Those less confident may perform well in class, but less so on multiple-choice tests. Students can be hard on themselves if they receive a score lower than what they were expecting. Test scores are only a fraction of what determines how “good” a student is in a subject. 

Educators preparing their students for these exams may focus teaching on test taking and scoring well. This intense focus on testing may compromise the development of new teaching techniques, which is important for enhancing subject comprehension.

Standardized tests are considered unfair. They are skewed towards students who can afford and access test preparation courses and coaches.

Exams at the American Embassy School:

The American Embassy School offers PSAT, SAT, as well as ACT testing. Many students, parents, and faculty appreciate these tests because they give students leverage when it comes to college applications. Colleges use these results to narrow down the turf to make acceptance decisions. 

I asked 11th grader Ananya Balakrishnan who took the ACTs this year on her opinion on standardized testing. Ananya explains how the ACT is “more stressful than it is good ”. Standardized testing “puts pressure on students to pay attention, and many of the skills you are forced to develop are useless in the future”. It is interesting that Ananya thinks it is “classist to determine whether a student is accepted into or rejected from a college based on their results” because standardized tests disadvantage students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students of color. She believes it is incredibly unfair to base students’ intelligence on their test performance and results. 

How Can We Better Prepare?

Due to the pandemic, many colleges across America such as the University of California college system which encompasses 10 schools, Cornell University, Williams College, Pomona College and several others have waived standardized tests in their admissions requirement. However, both American College Testing (ACT) and the College Board which administers the SAT, continue to support their standardized tests through the pandemic by providing additional testing options. 

As high school students, we need to be ready until all colleges make standardized testing optional. Fortunately, there are countless resources available to better prepare yourself for standardized test requirements such online test preparation courses, practice tests and other free resources at Khan Academy and Princeton Review. Standardized-test taking is a right of passage for High School students and we should pre prepared despite the brief break for the pandemic.