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Standardized Tests: Am I as Dumb as they Say?

By Paolo Skyrus

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We all go to high school to learn, whether we like it or not. The knowledge we take with us by completing assignments day in and day out prepares us for… what exactly? Sure, there’s an important work ethic to be built, essays to write, and variables to calculate; skills that give us a foundational understanding in life, but I’m sure many students ask themselves every day, “Why do I have to learn this?” While a few may actually find that memorizing chemical bonds or knowing what and where to use special triangles may actually be useful in life, the majority will likely pursue this knowledge for but a single purpose: standardized testing.

Educational institutions assign each of us a number based on our performance on these tests, apparently meant to gauge our intelligence. And that’s not all: these tests are a pivotal point in determining our futures, as most colleges only want “the best and the brightest” to receive their higher education.

That’s a lot of pressure. Thankfully, however, students can ease their way into college by making a number of helpful decisions, such as choosing between taking the SAT or the ACT, going to a college that doesn’t require standardized testing when applying, etc.

Should I take the SAT or the ACT? Which one is easier?

According to articles from The Princeton Review and StudyPoint, the ACT and SAT share a few similar qualities. Both are content-based tests that all U.S. four-year colleges will accept, and both contain four sections with an optional essay. However, the SAT has two math sections (one with a calculator, one without), as opposed to the ACT, which contains one math and one science section.

Neither tests penalize wrong answers, meaning your score is based purely on the amount of correct answers, and omits wrong or unanswered questions in the final score. However, the SAT questions progressively get harder, and for the ACT, question difficulty is random. The style of each test differs too, as the SAT’s questions are “evidence and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving,” while the ACT’s questions are “straightforward, questions [that] may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher” (StudyPoint).

So, what does this mean to students? It’s hard to see which test would be a better fit based on a bunch of facts. Because every student is different, the best way to decide whether to take the SAT or the ACT is to take a practice test for each, then decide for yourself. After all, one student’s “Wow, that was a piece of cake” is another’s “Wow, I feel like an ignorant potato,” so keep in mind that you shouldn’t stick to the “more popular” test, but, rather, go with the one you are most confident or comfortable taking. You may actually find that you’re comfortable with both tests, so taking both wouldn’t be a bad idea.

My test scores are garbage! What do I do now?

First of all, calm down. Second, it’s not the end of the world for your college career. There is a huge list of colleges that don’t require standardized test scores as a part of their admissions processes, and there are other ways to get into colleges other than good test scores. Test-optional schools make it clear that test scores shouldn’t dictate a student’s application. For example, Mills College’s Associate Director of Admissions Sherie Gilmore-Cleveland stated in an email interview when questioned about their admissions policy: “Having a test optional admission policy allows for greater access to higher education… that [means] a student’s academic profile over their high school career can give the Admissions Committee more insight on their college readiness as oppose to just test scores.”

One student’s, “Wow, that was a piece of cake” is another’s “Wow, I feel like an ignorant potato”

As long as you have a strong academic profile, you should be fine, so don’t stress too much. Remember: it’s never the end of the world if something doesn’t go quite as planned.

Do standardized tests actually measure my intelligence level?

Yes and no, although a quick search on the topic via the Internet indicates overwhelming opinion for the latter view. An article by Concordia University states one popular argument in favor of testing: “In the classroom, every teacher grades differently, with different standards for evaluation. When all admissions committees can see is the overall GPAs, nuances between teachers with lower and higher expectations are lost. As such, standardized testing acts as somewhat of an equalizing force, providing colleges with the only relatively objective data point with which to compare prospective students.”

Even though the tests may really just provide a fraction of what your intelligence really is, their primary function is to make the admissions process easier for both colleges.

However, opponents of testing argue that standardized tests don’t measure how smart you are, but more accurately, measure how well you can take tests.

Whatever side of the controversy on which you fall, you may decide to take the test anyway. If so, you don’t have to decide right away which one to take, let the practice tests inform you of the right decision. In preparation for my own testing, I’ve taken multiple practice tests, and in addition to slowly improving my score, it also – more importantly – has built my confidence. Standardized tests may be the most terrifying phrase of your life, but don’t let the notion of testing overwhelm you. Just do your best.

Good luck.

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