A Brief Rant About Standardized Testing

I have been dreading this year for my entire school career. Throughout middle school, I understood that I would have to take standardized tests and keep a high GPA, but that seemed like something that was too far into the future to care about. Now, as a junior, I find myself caring too much. The idea of taking another SAT makes me nauseous, prep classes are putting me to sleep and if I have to spend one more weekend studying the definitions of words like “pulchritude” or “imprecation,” I might lose it. As the days pass, I find myself becoming more restless about how this small group of numbers will define my future.

I will readily admit, I am awful at standardized tests. The difference between my solid grades and my low scores are stark. When taking an SAT, instead of focusing on problem-solving skills, all I can think about is:

•“Why did the test makers word the problem that way? Wouldn’t it have made more sense if they wrote…(Rewrites entire question)?”

•“What is it about me that makes me a crappy test taker?

•“Why do test makers think that particular kind of question is a reasonable indicator of future success? Are they right?”

•“Why do they need to time tests? Is life like Jeopardy where you have to buzz in the fastest?”

•“Why a No. 2 pencil? What do the numbers even mean? Is there a good reason for that, or is it a control thing? Would they really throw me out if I snuck in a rebel pencil?”

And the list goes on.

I understand why school systems use standardized testing. It allows a quick method for large universities to sift through thousands of applicants, choosing which ones have a higher perceived intelligence. It also creates a culture that is competitive and driven to succeed. China, a country with a long tradition of standardized testing, topped all countries in the international rankings for reading, math and science in 2009 when it debuted on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) charts.

However, I also know how I feel when taking a big test: anxious. On March 14, 2002, the Sacramento Bee reported “test-related jitters, especially among young students, are so common that the Stanford-9 exam comes with instructions on what to do with a test booklet in case a student vomits on it.” If second graders are already feeling enough pressure to be physically sick, just imagine their futures.

I’m not saying we need to debunk the entire system, but a somewhat more holistic way to measure intelligence would improve the situation. For example, statewide longitudinal data systems now track students in most states from pre-K all the way through high school (and in some states, college). That means a student’s abilities aren’t dependent on the outcome of just a couple tests. Other alternatives range from video game based assessment to tests that are more specific to a student’s strengths (often called a curriculum-based assessment).

I have had teachers describe standardized testing to me as a “necessary evil.” I see very few necessary aspects to it. By embracing different methods, not only will colleges be able to more accurately gage a student’s capabilities but more importantly, improve students’ overall mental health.

– By Chloe Gruesbeck