Standardized tests – yet another way to rip off poor students

Friday, November 18, 2005


Written by Rachna Mutreja

Every year thousands of students are forced to take standardized tests in school, for higher studies, et cetera. However, there are numerous issues with these tests. Are these standardized tests fair and reliable? What do they test? What do they determine? Standardized tests are not representative of anyone’s true skills and do not predict future performance in any area. They are not a fair evaluation and shouldn’t be used to determine if someone qualifies for graduate school - or if someone even belongs in the grade that they are in.

Standardized tests are supposed to be tests where every person answers the same questions. However, as I recently took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), I know that most of us did not have the same questions. The GRE is a computer adaptive test in which every student is presented questions according to their previous answer. For example, the first question may be hard and if the student gets it wrong, then the next question will be easier but the weight of the question will vary. So according to your performance, you will be presented with a different series of questions.

In general, standardized tests create more pressure for people, which can affect performance on the test. The expectations to do well on such tests force students to study long hours and give up sleep and then wake up early to take an exam which they are told will have a huge influence on which university will accept them for higher studies. The scores from the GRE is used by graduate schools to determine verbal, analytical and math abilities of a student. The verbal section consists of antonyms, analogies, sentence completion and reading comprehension. It is generally the hardest section because it is the most difficult to study or prepare for since most students vocabulary cannot be expanded in a few weeks to master this test. A better representation of English and writing skills is the analytical section. However, the time limit of 30-45 minutes on each of the two essays does create considerable pressure in order to create compelling and grammatically correct essays that either have to justify a side of an issue or analyze an argument.

Standardized tests usually assume that all students taking the test are from the same background, usually white-middle class. Canadian universities use the GRE to accept students into their graduate programs. However, the GRE itself is a test created in the United States. The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was also created in the United States but countries all over the world use it when determining which students should be accepted into the undergraduate programs.

The other problem with standardized tests is that they are not objective. Most sections if multiple choice are marked by a computer which makes it objective. However, for the GRE, the essay sections are marked by two or three people who will all vary in their views of what a good essay is. Hence the marks can be very subjective.

The tests do not seem reliable to me. It is possible that the tests are reliable. However, the conditions under which the test is taken repeatedly can vary and hence, the scores can vary as well. If a person who just experienced a death in the family took the exam, it is quite likely that they would not do so well. However, if they took it in a week where they were focused and had no personal issues, then they would probably do considerably better. Everyone’s scores can vary from day to day.

Additionally, most people do better on different types of tests. Multiple choice questions are not always the best way of testing. However, because it is so easy to mark multiple choice questions using a computer, it is most frequently used on tests. Multiple choice requires students to recognize answers instead of recalling them and explaining or reasoning questions. Multiple choice questions also do not reflect real life questions since we usually do not have a bunch of choices with only one right answer in front of us when we have to solve a problem.

Standardized testing is yet another business. There are numerous publishers that make study guides for the various standardized tests. Plus the tests themselves are ridiculously expensive and considering the stress we are under to take them, chances are we will not be satisfied with our marks and will have to take them over again and pay more money. Then, once you take the test, you are required to send the scores to the universities you intend on applying to. However, there is always a limit on how many you can send for free, usually no more than three or four. Most students apply to at least five universities and will have to pay more money to send more scores out. In the end of it all, we would have hopefully made it to one university and have lost all this money, which the testing agencies and publishing companies made their unfair profits from poor students.
Standardized tests need to take into consideration individual differences and variations across different students’ abilities, backgrounds, knowledge, experience, et cetera in order to be completely fair. As unrealistic as that may seem, it is the only way to ensure that the tests are fair and reliable. In order to evaluate a student’s ability, tests should not be time-pressured and they should evaluate real life tasks and performance. Not knowing the antonym of a random word in the dictionary that is hardly ever used does not reflect a student’s abilities or knowledge nor does it determine if they are qualified to attend a graduate program or predict how well they will in the future.

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  1. Posted by: Deep on Nov 21, 2005 @ 11:25pm

    ban standardized tests!!!

  2. Posted by: on Dec 10, 2005 @ 9:45am

    I'm sort of undecided with regards to my views on standardized testing. On the con side, I do think they tend to push students to 'study towards a test', which obviously encourages a narrowing of skills sets. I also question the validity of multiple choice testst that pertain to English/communication skills. A student's command of written and oral communication can't effectively be measured under these conditions.

    On the pro side, they do provide a means for Graduate Studies programs to measure and compare students on a level playing field. An A at Guelph does not mean the same thing as an A at U of T, nor does it mean the same thing as an A at Harvard or at Brock University. Only the world's biggest optimist would argue that the standards are the same for each institution. While it would be inappropriate for a University's admissions program to ONLY consider GRE scores, etc, they're clearly a useful means of getting a general sense of how students measure up against one another (and more importantly whether one school seems guilty, on the average, of mark inflation).

  3. Posted by: Ryan on Dec 29, 2005 @ 4:53pm

    This is a tough one.
    Asha, standardized tests aren't there to make students happy. And they certainly aren't a way of effectively assessing a student's command of the english language (example, ESL students are better with english grammar and spelling when compared to people who grow up speaking english). What they do however, is find the "fairest" and "least complex" way of rating students against one another. What people don't realize is that an 800 on an SAT in the year 2000, is different than an 800 on an SAT the following year.
    So Jesse I think you're pretty much bang-on with your arguement.

  4. Posted by: Persnickety on Jan 6, 2006 @ 10:52pm

    Replace the phrase "standardized test" with "university/college" and you'll see that stardardized tests are no different from any other test taken in our university careers. All academic grading is biased, and it is a poor and inaccurate assessment our perspicacity (which, by the way, we do not learn in school because they make us regurgitate lectures).

  5. Posted by: Aphrael on Jan 11, 2006 @ 9:04am

    I'm not entirely sure what you mean when you say, "Standardized tests usually assume that all students taking the test are from the same background, usually white-middle class." I find this comment very puzzling. How does this assumption shine through in test questions? I'm trying to think of an examples of "antonyms, analogies, sentence completion and reading comprehension," questions that would be noticably biased towards people who are not white, middle class and am struggling to do so.

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