Standardized tests do not define students

March 14, 2019 — by Jessica Wang

“You’re so smart — you got a 35 on the ACT.”

Statements like these, which can be commonly heard in the school’s hallways, aren’t just compliments friends give to each other for doing well on standardized tests; rather, they are implicit agreements that higher test scores are somehow indicative of greater intellect. On the flip side, these kinds of statements  also dangerously assume that those without scores as high as a 35 on the ACT are lacking in intelligence.

Despite what the College Board and other creators of standardized tests might tell students, the problem is that the SAT and ACT aren’t actually the best indicators of students’ abilities. The entire premise that intelligence can actually be measured accurately by standardized tests is a faulty one to begin with.

Tests like the SAT and ACT have similar formats: about three to four multiple choice sections covering English, reading, math and sciences. Scores for each section are averaged to a composite score, which supposedly then provides a measurement of student potential. The problem is that these formats are repetitive and relatively easy to exploit, especially for those with the means to do so.

For this reason, test-prep centers and practice books have minimized their focus on honing students’ existing abilities in reading comprehension and math, but have instead trained students on the style (but not content) of the tests’ questions and how to navigate the tests’ time constraints in each section. Too often, though students aren’t actually taking in, digesting and synthesizing information anymore when they’re taking the tests with this type of test preparation; rather, they are only trying to blindly buzz through the test while making minimal errors.

In short, there’s no longer an incentive placed on understanding why a certain answer was correct, but instead, there’s a motivation for students to understand why all the other choices are wrong.

These tests don’t necessarily measure a student’s intelligence — they mostly determine how well students can perform repetitive work.

To make matters worse, students, in their attempts to achieve the best score they can, often take the SAT, ACT or both tests multiple times in order to get a score they are finally satisfied with. Multiple attempts at the test, however, demonstrate another fundamental flaw of the test — it cannot objectively measure a test-taker’s abilities. For example, two students with 35s on the ACT would look almost identical to each other on paper, even if one of them took it just once and the other took it five times.

On top of all this, standardized testing scores still provide only one reference point to a student’s capabilities, and that’s even assuming that the scores are an accurate measurement in the first place. Ironically, even in the case of college admissions, which seems to be the driving reason for all the craze surrounding standardized testing, recent trends have seen schools place less of an emphasis on tests such as the SAT and ACT.

With scandals in the June and October tests last year, along with the many studies conducted that have shown correlation between high test scores and student wealth and not intelligence, universities have begun to distance themselves from the tests or make submitting scores entirely optional, as was in the case of the University of Chicago. Rather, universities have begun to pay more and more attention to the intangible factors they think students can bring to the table, such as a strong musical background or a devotion to giving back to the community.

A 35 on the ACT undoubtedly still looks nice on a student’s application, but it’s no longer the be-all and end-all in the eyes of an admissions officer; instead, it’s those other things that a single score or two would never be able to explain.

So next time, before mindlessly saying that a friend or classmate is smart because they got a high score on the ACT, students should instead qualify that compliment with something a little more substantial than a number; after all, Saratoga High students, and by extension, all students who take the SAT and ACT, are more than the scores they get on those tests.

7 views this week

Add new comment

Prove that you're human: