Standardized Tests Are Both Good And Bad
There are many good reasons for why we use standardized tests to assess and compare students. There are also reasons for why it is not the best way to measure a students’ performance.
Standardized tests are good because they measure and compare your abilities on a normalized distribution. This is important because it means that your score does not depend on factors such as what school you went to or what country you’re from. This means that everyone is on a level playing field. If there were no standardized tests, then each school would have to create their own way to assess students. And some schools may create tests that are harder and some may create tests that are easier. It would be unfair to compare students from these schools to each other. That’s why Colleges and Universities don’t just use your school grades to assess your ability. A lot of people think that standardized tests measure your Intelligence Quotient (IQ), however, they don’t do that. We have actual IQ tests for that. Rather, these tests demonstrate the following:
- How hard working you are (it takes months of studying and practice to ace a standardized test).
- Your level of knowledge and expertise on a subject.
- Your critical reading ability.
- Your ability to understand data and make extrapolations and conclusions from it.
And, possibly, the biggest reason for why standardized tests are used is that they allow schools to select a few candidates from a very large pool of applicants. How else would a university or college, for example, select 400 students from 20,000 applicants? Without some quick way to weed out the majority of the applicants, there would be no possible way to do it efficiently and without bias.
Standardized tests have their fair share of flaws. The questions are not always fair and the companies that create them are constantly experimenting and changing them and updating them. Sometimes this leads to entire redesigning of tests. Sometimes, it has more to do with profits than anything else, because let’s face it, standardized tests are created by companies, not the government or educational board.
Take, for example, CollegeBoard; the SAT used to be scored on a scale of 1600 – but then they started losing profits to their competitor – the ACT. So, they changed their test to be out of 2400 and added some new sections and made the test more based on aptitude rather than mastery of school curriculum. In the beginning, many colleges were happy with this because they felt that this new test would more accurately determine the capabilities of a student. But over time, it quickly became apparent that aptitude tests can be ‘gamed’. People started realizing all the little ‘tricks’ that were on the test and the test soon became about learning the tricks rather than mastering the material. Thus, the ACT soon became the more popular choice for students. And, lo-and-behold, CollegeBoard did a 180 and went back to the old 1600 score system and completely restructured the SAT again. This time, they’re following the school curriculum. The new SAT is now being criticized for having poorly designed questions amongst other things.
Another major reason for why standardized tests are not good is that they give institutions the ability to hold students back in certain professions. For example, in Medicine – the final exam you need to do at the end of medical school is the USMLE Step 2 CK, in order to get into a residency program to become a licensed doctor. What has happened in recent years, is that they have increased the passing score cut-off from 186 – 209; something that was unprecedented for this test. The reason? There are about 26,000 residency spots in America, but, you have twice as many applicants (I think it’s almost three times as many now). So, they were starting to see a lot of medical students finishing medical school but not getting into residency – so instead, they decided to hold people back by making the final exam harder to pass. This has huge consequences on individual students who have spent many years and sometimes over $250,000.
Finally, not everyone is good at taking tests. Some people get too much anxiety; some cannot cope with the stress; some have trouble focusing for the extended periods of time. There are many brilliant students who do superbly in school, but not well on standardized tests for all kinds of reasons.
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So, standardized tests are not the best way to assess students. However, there is no other real alternative currently.
For more information on standardized tests such as the SAT, visit our blog at exammasters