Searching For The Standard

With most Uppers and Lowers taking the PSATs this week, talk of standardized testing reminded me of the boarding-school application process. In ninth grade, I spent hours studying vocabulary words and test strategies from an SSAT textbook, doing everything I could to maximize my chances of a high score. I felt that I needed to do well on the test for one reason: it was a concrete number that I could cling to, and therefore exclusively a measuring stick of my own capabilities.

Standardized testing, however, does not wholly measure a person’s intelligence or their capacities. These tests exclude many subjects and focus exclusively on Math and English. The strengths of students who shine in other subjects – like foreign languages, history, science, or music – are not conveyed by their scores. Standardized tests only measure how much a student studies, or how well a student can memorize large amounts of raw material. They do not define a student academically, and therefore should not be used to determine one’s academic success.

Standardized tests also do not create a “level playing field” where every student has an equal chance of success. Large amounts of money are spent on costly prep books, tutors, classes, camps, and retakes. Students who cannot afford these prep tools are at a significant disadvantage compared to those who can. I, for one, bought two prep books and took the test twice, which amounted to almost 300 dollars. I was lucky enough to be able to afford all of this, but most students cannot. If a test created to level the playing field is so easily manipulated by money, then it does not deserve the title “standard.”

Instead of spending large amounts of time prepping for a single test, it is much better to allocate this time towards writing a meaningful application or focusing on growing in other areas. In my own boarding-school application experience, I wish I had worried less about the test and spent more time building other aspects of my application, such as my art portfolio. Until I was accepted to Andover, I did not realize that I could have used my time more effectively to create an application that was much more reflective of me as a person.

Standardized tests should not be used to determine students’ worth. Although colleges across the country are beginning to reduce the weight of standardized test scores in the admissions process, I encourage students to spend less time studying for one test and to spend more time creating personal applications that are more representative of who they are. So focus on your grades, go to club meetings that interest you, and do things that you enjoy instead of spending your time trying to achieve a certain score on a single test.