Standardized Tests: A Parent's Guide

Learn about how standardized testing will affect your child's college admissions.

As colleges place more emphasis on standardized testing in their admissions process, it’s only natural as a parent to want to understand how your child’s chances of getting into a university will be affected.

You may have questions about the tests themselves, the controversy surrounding them, and how best you can help your child do well. We’re here to help!

What Are Standardized Tests?

In many ways, standardized tests are so widely used because they are perceived to be a more fair and accurate means of determining a student’s aptitude.

That’s because a standardized test is administered in a consistent or “standard” manner. That means that the questions are designed so that the answers will reflect a precise measure of a student’s abilities.

Different groups and organizations, like the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, hire experts to conduct extensive research and develop questions to help predict a student’s performance.

Why Are Standardized Tests Important?

It’s important to remember that standardized tests are not perfect assessment tools, but many colleges use them in evaluating incoming students. It can be a deciding factor in the admissions and financial aid processes, though other factors like grades and extracurricular activities will also play a pivotal role.

Many administrators believe in the value of these tests because they are a uniform measure of aptitude. In their opinion, without these tests we are merely relying on a teacher’s individual grading practices.

Types of Standardized Tests

Perhaps the most well-known of the standardized tests are aptitude tests, which measure general knowledge.

The most popular of these tests is the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), which gauges students' verbal and math abilities and is the most widely accepted by colleges to determine how they will succeed.

The SAT is divided into three sections: critical reading, writing and mathematics. The College Board also offers SAT subject tests which focus on particular disciplines. Read more about the SAT tests here.

The ACT (American College Testing) is another aptitude test with the same purpose, but is not always required by colleges. That test offers questions on math, English, reading and science reasoning. Read more about the ACT test here.

Then there’s something known as “high-stakes testing” which is just as intimidating as it sounds. The reason for the name is that, indeed, the stakes are high and the results have important consequences.

Some examples of “high-stakes” tests are high school exit exams to receive a General Education Diploma (GED), No Child Left Behind (NCLB) tests, and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

The application of high-stakes testing has been widely received by many politicians seeking accountability from schools, as these tests are often a means of deciding a school’s accreditation and future funding. As a result, much controversy has resulted.

The Standardized Test Controversy

There are two fairly well-defined sides to the issue of standardized testing: critics versus advocates.

Critics say that the use of standardized testing is stressful for students and administrators, whose futures may very well rest on a set of answers. Additionally, they feel that these tests may not fairly judge a disadvantaged student’s abilities, as some questions almost seem geared toward a specific socioeconomic level.

The consequences of doing poorly on these tests, in particular the NCLB tests, can affect whether a student can graduate or even go so far as to close a school’s doors. Thus, it has been argued that teachers often tailor their classrooms to ensure students will pass a test, rather than focus on a well-rounded education.

While advocates of standardized testing argue that these serve as a consistent and accurate gauge of a student and an academic institution’s merits. They also claim that the universality of these tests is unquestionable.

So, while standardized testing pros and cons are difficult to wade through, it’s important to note that it’s something every student is subjected to. If your child does well it can mean increased financial aid and acceptance to a prestigious university, while consequences of doing poorly include the possibility of not being able to graduate.

Standardized Tests: Tips and Tactics for Parents

  • Perhaps the best measure you can take is ensuring that your child gets a full night’s sleep before the test. Sleep has been proven to affect memory and reasoning skills, so make sure they get the proper amount.
  • Additionally, don’t let your child leave the house without a proper breakfast and make sure that alarms are set so that they arrive at the testing center at least fifteen minutes early.
  • While there are testing preparatory classes, they are often expensive and not always an option. But as a parent you can request sample or practice tests from the library where you can explore strategies and help your child understand the format of the exam.

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