To Test, or Not to Test — That is the Question


For decades, colleges have used standardized tests to evaluate the academic potential of incoming applicants. Because high schools across the United States often vary in course offerings, teaching quality, physical resources, and available technology, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT would seem to be a useful way to level the playing field.

Today’s high school students are certainly used to being tested throughout their school years. They undergo standardized testing to evaluate the ability of their teachers, the quality of their schools, the rationale for public funding, and even whether their school will remain open. Testing has even reached federal levels in recent years, as seen by 2001’s No Child Left Behind and the more recent Common Core.

The standardized test movement has resulted in an educational system that values the test score as the only way to measure learning. Curriculum and content requirements force teachers to “teach to the test.” Classroom activities are restricted to those that limit collaborative problem-solving work. Skills that employers value such as teamwork, creativity, and innovation are ignored for competition, regurgitation of material that can be evaluated with a true/false answer, and a fear of risk taking. Even cheating has become acceptable, as the ends seem to justify the means. Click here to read more about the Long Island testing scandal.

So what is a high school student to do when it comes to taking the SAT and ACT?

To begin, your test score is only part of the picture. Admissions officers will look at your SAT or ACT test scores to be sure, but many colleges offer a holistic review in which they evaluate other factors such as your counselor and teacher recommendations and your admission essay.

YOU ARE NOT YOUR TEST SCORE. Your value as a student and as a person is not dependent on a number from your work on a random Saturday morning.

If you are reluctant to take the SAT or ACT, you might consider colleges that do not require standardized tests for admission. There are over 400 schools in the United States that are test optional. You can see a list of these colleges here. These schools believe that your high school class work is more indicative of your college success than a test score. Additionally, test optional schools value 21st-century skills such as originality, imagination, and vision. It’s hard to develop traits like these when you’re worried about a ¼ of a point deduction or a 5-paragraph essay.

Employers consistently say that they want to hire people with certain skills. According to Forbes, being a good team player is the number one desired trait. Read about the others here.

A standardized test can’t measure these kind of abilities very well. It’s not what encapsulates you and it’s not what our future needs.

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