By Clare Schinzel
On a list of things that upset teenagers, waking up early on a Saturday might be near the top. But for high school students, those early weekends are a standard part of the college admissions process.
Unfortunately for the night owls of America, testing centers are opening all across the country to host traditional aptitude exams––such as the ACT or SAT––in order to access what students learned over their four years in high school. While it can be a stressful process, standardized tests can give students an extra edge in receiving scholarships and in the college admissions process.
Standardized tests can also paint a picture for colleges of the STEM knowledge a student has acquired over high school. The ACT features both a math and a science section while the SAT boasts two different math sections––one with a calculator and one without. The science section unique to the ACT tests speed, analysis, and graph interpretation. Students scoring high in these sections could be successful in forensics, meteorology, and other analytical careers. The math sections can competently access a student's knowledge of formulas, computation speed, and overall retention of concepts from classes taken during students’ early high school years. The SAT adds another layer to this by testing a student’s mental math abilities, which can be useful in professions where computation has to be fast and accurate. For students interested in studying engineering, accounting, or sociology, those skills could be incredibly useful.
However, standardized testing isn’t a perfect process. It only accesses a student on one morning, taking one test. A good night's sleep, proximity and familiarity with the testing site, and many other factors could impact a student either negatively or positively. Additionally, some students simply may not be competent test takers. A student with a high GPA could prove they are a hard worker, but a low standardized test score can hold them back or be a major roadblock for otherwise gifted individuals. By putting so much value on a singular score, schools and scholarships miss the opportunity to open up their gates to a multitude of extraordinary students.
It’s easy to see why these tests are so divisive. While they can evaluate how good of a test taker a student is, they fail to evaluate critical characteristics desired in STEM careers. Solving a math problem may show a future employer that a student knows a formula or how to punch numbers into their calculator, but it fails to showcase their creative thinking skills, artistic ability, or overall improvement. All of those skills are definitely valuable qualities in a STEM workplace, which are generally more focused on progress and problem-solving than the regurgitation of information.
Overall, the value of standardized tests remains a highly debated topic among educators. While it does allow some students to showcase skills that they may not get a chance to present in a normal classroom, these tests also prove to be an obstacle to students who don’t excel at traditional test taking. Luckily, the college admissions process has presented a compromise. Many schools––even Ivy League and other highly selective institutions––have issued test-optional policies that allow students to present their best selves to admissions directors, and ultimately focus on taking advantage of the higher education system they are privileged with rather than worrying about if they will even get in.
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