Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT have become irrelevant

Standardized test are starting to become irrelevant in the college application process. The test only create unneeded stress among high school students.

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Standardized test are starting to become irrelevant in the college application process. The test only create unneeded stress among high school students.

Alexis Bahensky, Opinions Editor

The standardized testing season for Millard West has just started and juniors are occupied with test preparations which, in turn, is causing unnecessary stress upon them. In today’s society, the ACT and SAT should no longer be considered as determining factors for a high schooler’s future.

High schools stress the importance of standardized testing. Millard West, for example, has purchased many tools students can use such as On to College, Naviance and more. While these are helpful tools and students should utilize them because of the funds spent on them by the school, the tests themselves, as well as the preparation, are relatively useless.

Both the ACT and SAT are standardized tests, meaning they determine how well prepared a student is to take college-level courses. This may have been the objective of the tests; however, they have failed to complete that set goal. New research shows that grade point average is a better predictor of college success than standardized tests. GPA is five times more likely to determine graduation rates, making them the better indicator. 

It can be argued that high schools have a variety of ways to determine a student’s GPA, making it hard to make them universal for colleges to determine admission compared to the ACT and SAT. While this may be true, GPA is still an indicator of a student’s work over their high school career, showing that they have the motivation and an intent to continue to keep that same academic record. 

One large factor that contributes to the failure of standardized test scores when determining a student’s future performance is test anxiety. When given a short period of time, students are more likely to have an increased level of stress, leading to a lower in their test score. Students with a higher risk of anxiety are more likely to score lower on specifically multiple-choice question (MCQ) exams, which is what the ACT and SAT are. As someone who suffers from an intense case of test anxiety, I can attest to this. I have always found it difficult to choose between different options, especially when it comes to an added time limit. Many other students would agree as over 40% of the student population sufferers from different degrees of test anxiety.

The form of the tests also creates a dilemma. As stated earlier, MCQs can cause students to become indecisive and second guess themselves, which can lead to an increase in stress levels ultimately leading to lower test scores. Personally, I had much more success on the written portion than I did with the MCQ part of the ACT my junior year. The exam on the ACT is to test if a student is able to write a written argument, but written exams, such as free-response and short answer questions, still allow students to prove that they are able to use the information they have learned in school effectively. Multiple choice tells a student to select the correct answer without any reasoning behind it. On the other hand, written exams give students the chance to show their reasoning behind their decision which shows better indicators of how well a student will do in college. Getting an answer right means nothing if it is just a guess or pure luck, which is possible that this is how many students achieve the scores they get. Explaining reasoning shows how well a student will be prepared to handle more difficult classes that require in-depth analysis and critical thinking skills. 

Standardized tests, to effectively predict a student’s success in college, need to follow a set pattern. Each year, the material on the tests changes drastically. One year the math portion could have questions pertaining to the quadratic equation, while the next year will have nothing on it. Since this is the reality, students are unable to effectively prepare for the tests. While a certain ratio is ensured to have a certain number of questions from a specific category, such as grammar and so on, there is still too much diversity within those categories to properly prepare. No matter how much studying is done, a student does not have the time, and should not be forced to, study every single possible question that could show up on the test. Now, if the tests were more uniform year after year it would be more acceptable; however, since this is not the reality of the matter, students will still be ill-prepared to take the exams making them more like tests of luck rather than skill.

Structure is not the only criticism for the use of standardized tests. There are also complaints that the ACT tends to favor white males over the general population. For example, men tend to take riskier actions than females leading to multiple-choice, the main style of the ACT and SAT, to be easier for them. When people say that women tend to overthink, this is one of those cases that is true. Women do tend to think more about their decisions, causing them to second guess themselves leading to possibly getting lower scores. Minorities can also be affected, especially if their first language is not English. Some common English phrases such as “two peas in a pod” and others could cause confusion for those who understand English overall, but do not have a deeper understanding of it. This prevents equal opportunities to be presented to all groups taking the test, further illigitamizing it as a requirement for college admission.

Students stemming from higher-income families have a better chance to score a high score, usually over 1,000, on the SAT than those from lower-income families.
(Photo courtesy of Forbes)

Income has also recently become an issue with the ACT in particular. Most have heard of the Varsity Blues scandal, which happened when (mainly upper-class families) bribed college administrators to allow their child to attend their institutions or cheat their standardized test scores. This further shows that the ACT has failed because people have resulted to cheating the test to allow their children to attend the college of their choosing. It also created a deeper division between upper classes and lower classes when it comes to testing and college admissions.

Many schools have become test-optional realizing that there is little to no correlation between standardized testing and a student’s performance in college. More colleges should follow suit to make admission processes fairer for everyone. I am not saying the tests should be scrapped altogether since they can still hold value for scholarships; however, they shouldn’t be used to determine overall admission into a college. Doing so would promote more student wellness and allow them to have a less stressful junior year allowing them to enjoy their high school experience a bit more.