The Unstandardized Standardized Test

By: Sarah Brill  |  November 14, 2018

By Sarah Brill

We all dreaded walking into that building that held our future in its hands. We all hated pulling out our number 2 pencils and writing out our names in the blocks that were given. We hated coloring in our answers in those nightmare-inducing bubbles, and prayed that the answer was right. But why were we taking those tests? Did they really communicate the best of our abilities? Should standardized testing really determine our future if it doesn’t cater to the needs of every teenage individual?

IQ tests have many sections. Some test abstract thinking, while others test artistic talents. At the end of the test, you receive your overall IQ and an overview of your strengths and weaknesses. Even with the number of sections it has, the IQ test does not take into account the social and economic demographics of the people taking it. A child who grew up in a poor household, with little to no resources, is likely to score lower than a child who is overwhelmed by wealth and an endless amount of resources.  

The same goes for the new ACT and SAT tests. Even with the recent changes, the test is not considered equal across the board. Socioeconomic factors still play a role, and there are still only three to four sections to express your abilities. No real changes have been made to take into consideration the demographics of the students taking these exams. Furthermore, people raised in non-English speaking households are subject to do poorly on their tests. This is unfair on many counts.

Ivy League institutions, most of which pride themselves on a diverse and well-rounded community, tend to weed out their candidates just by looking at the SAT and ACT scores. Some colleges, including many high-profile liberal arts colleges and private universities, have taken up a holistic approach to their admissions process. This means that the student’s essay and personal information are considered just as important, if not more so, than grades and standardized test scores.

Stern College has a highly selective Honors Program. When one is admitted, she is able to partake in many of the program’s benefits that are unavailable to her peers. But what psychological toll does it take on a prospective student? Many students, especially girls who have their hearts set on Stern Honors, attempt the ACT or SAT many times to accomplish the high score of 32 on the ACT or 1460 on the SAT. Imagine if you took those tests so many times and kept scoring consistently low. It would not boost your motivation or your perception of yourself. It may make you feel as if you are less than those who score higher. You may wonder, “Why can’t I score in the top 5%? Am I stupid? Am I dumb?” Why put yourself through this psychological torture? The ACT and SAT exams are catered to those students who may be good test-takers, and it does not take into account those who may have test anxiety, those who may not do well at inferring and therefore tank the English section, those who haven’t had a proper geometry teacher and therefore fail the mathematics section, and so on. Even though the Stern Honors Program has a recommended ACT and SAT score, not a required one, it is possible that students still feel pressure and self-doubt when applying without a high score.

More relevant to students already attending college are the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT tests. In this case, standardized testing is optional and not many people choose to take these tests. Those who do, however, know that if they do not score well, they will not get admitted into the graduate university of their choice. Furthermore, these tests are less accessible to people who are struggling financially, because the tests cost upwards of $300 each. This means that those students will, most likely, have only one shot at the test, which may increase their test anxiety and negatively affect the score they receive. Personally, I think that these tests should not be given to get into graduate school, because, in most cases, you are given another test after graduate school to determine whether you can proceed into the profession. Why take a test to further your education if you have already proven yourself worthy in undergraduate studies? Unfortunately, this requirement will not soon be changed because of the rigor of law, medical, and graduate programs.

While many of the top colleges and universities in the United States still hold the standardized tests in high regard, some universities are changing their admissions process so that more students can have the opportunity to attend a university and gain a higher education. This holistic approach will change the workforce in the future because we will have more people from lower-income households changing the world. Our world is changing rapidly, and so too should our standardized testing and the admissions process. Our college essays, and our stories embedded within them, should influence the admissions committee to accept us, rather than this one unstandardized standardized test.