The college admission season for the class of 2021 has certainly been an unprecedented one. With the COVID pandemic closing SAT and ACT centers around the country, many colleges have decided to go test-optional. This decision came from the necessity to accommodate the students who have been physically unable to take either of the tests, especially since forcing them to do so could compromise their safety. This decision has emanated the question of whether or not standardized testing is actually worth keeping in the admissions process. With that being said, here are the key arguments behind both sides of the debate.
Standardized testing provides a fair way to compare students.
There is no doubt that schools all around the globe use different ways to measure academic performance. Some schools provide a one-point GPA boost for honors and AP courses, while some are not as lenient and offer a 0.5-point boost for honors courses and a one-point increase for AP courses. This difference in GPA scaling has led to the dispute over GPA inflation, in which some high schools have higher weighted GPA averages than other schools simply because of the way they scale grades. Because of this, many people believe that standardized testing is a way to equally compare students without having to worry about the unintended advantage resulting from grade inflation.
Standardized testing is practical and unbiased
Another common argument for the preservation of standardized testing is how it is easy to administer and understand the exam. The SAT, for example, has explicit directions that are understandable by virtually anyone, which makes the test time efficient and easy to grade. In addition, there is no way for the tests to be graded in a biased manner as they are graded by computers.
Standardized testing offers valuable data for schools
Standardized testing can help schools pinpoint areas where their students are not performing as they should be. For example, schools usually receive statistics regarding the overall performance of their students on tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and they are able to determine where they need to focus more on through that data. So if the students are doing well above the national average on math but not on reading, then schools will be able to determine that they need to put more emphasis on reading comprehension.
Standardized testing incentivizes studying important topics
Standardized testing covers topics that can be useful for different occupations. With this in hand, having the incentive to study for the exam can help improve reading comprehension, mathematics conceptualization, data analysis, and grammar. For students who are going into English, for example, having that extra reason to study grammar rules can help with understanding different rules and edicts in the English language. In addition, being able to develop study habits through studying for exams such as the SAT and the ACT can prove to be beneficial for future classes and tests.
Standardized testing brings too much stress
Standardized testing can be difficult for many students, which means that they will need to spend an abundance of time and money on tutoring just to prepare for the exam. Because of this, students are unable to use the time they spend studying for the SAT/ACT on something more meaningful, such as their extracurricular activities. This, in turn, will result in more stress than needed as many people feel that the number they receive on a three-hour exam defines their chances of getting into their dream school, which may be true in some cases.
Standardized testing is too expensive
The SAT and ACT exams themselves usually require tutoring for some students. Because of this, some people have to pay around $45 to $100 per hour, which can be a financial burden. This necessity can be detrimental for lower-income students as many use fee waivers to pay for the exams, but they are usually unable to afford to spend money on tutoring. This, in turn, gives an advantage to students who are able to afford tutoring without much of a financial problem, as they would hypothetically be able to do better with the extra help that they receive from the tutoring sessions.
Some students are not natural test-takers
There is no doubt that some high schoolers simply do not thrive in high-pressure and face-paced work environments. Having to work quickly, students are prone to making minimal mistakes that can get them the whole problem wrong, which can be detrimental to their overall score. These circumstances can affect a student’s mindset while taking the test, in which they constantly remind themself that making the smallest error will hurt their overall score, thus deteriorating their performance even more.
“To me, standardized testing is taxing to students and I think it doesn't accurately represent academic intelligence. However, I can see how it's the only comparable measure that colleges can use to compare students from across the globe, where GPAs and classes differ from school to school.”
- Ben Yan, Class of 2022
Students from foreign countries are at a disadvantage
Some students find that the best way to pursue their passion in a certain field is to attend college at a school in the United States. However, getting into top universities for certain degrees can come with the necessity to have impressive standardized testing scores. This desideratum can be difficult for foreign students to attain, as they may not speak English as their first language, thus putting them at a disadvantage for sections such as English and reading just because of their language barrier. Because of this, there is no reliable way to test essential skills such as reading comprehension as some students may be phenomenal readers, but they simply do not understand the English language at the same level that native speakers comprehend it.
Overall, there are various viewpoints on the topic of whether or not standardized testing should be kept. While standardized tests provide an alternative way for students to demonstrate academic mastery, many others believe that it can be detrimental to their health with the stress that it bestows. With the changes that we have observed over the past few months on tests such as the SAT, we can certainly expect to see more as questions arise and new opportunities present themselves.