What do Standardized Tests Actually Measure?


Angela Goldshteyn, Staff Writer

Imagine this. You have been preparing, waiting, and your nervousness has increased for this day. You recite all the facts in your head and hope you do well on the test. Why? How well you do on this one standardized test is a deciding factor in whether you will attend the college you want and possibly the future you have. So you stand there, impatiently waiting for this one test that impacts your entire life. Then, you go into the room and do your best on the test.

But what does this standardized test reveal about you? To colleges and schools, these tests measure your intelligence and how prepared you are to do college level work. Intelligence is defined as “the ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations.” If we look closely at this definition we see that “the ability to learn or understand things” is not only limited to English, Science, and other subjects. It includes playing an instrument, making various art pieces, debating, learning how to play a sport, developing knowledge of the world around you and the events that take place and much more. All of these things are part of the definition of intelligence, yet interestingly, none of them are measured on standardized tests. If we look at the last part of the definition, “to deal with new or difficult situations,” we are able to clearly see that although standardized tests may be a “difficult situation,” these tests don’t ask you what you would do in a dangerous situation or  what your solution would be if you were presented with a problem. Since the definition of intelligence is not consistent with the questions on standardized tests, you may be pondering what they actually measure. These tests measure your ability to concentrate when you’re nervous, how well you have memorized information, and if you are a good test taker. Therefore, people who have great memory and know key strategies on how to approach questions are at an advantage when taking these tests while people who get especially nervous before tests and don’t have such a good memory, are at a disadvantage even if they understand the information.

This presents a problem because the scores of students, who have deep understanding of the material, but have trouble memorizing it, decrease. Thus, standardized tests benefit only one type of individual, while all others are at a disadvantage. In addition, since public schools want to have a good reputation among other schools, and students doing well on standardized tests is part of this reputation, these schools teach only the topics that will be covered on the tests. This causes students to learn material not because they enjoy educating themselves, but in order to do well on these tests.

Therefore, standardized tests don’t completely measure intelligence, but rather your memorization skills and your tactics on solving multiple choice problems. Also, students who can afford to get an SAT tutor or enroll in an SAT prep course have a higher chance of doing well on the SATs than other students.

So, what should colleges do instead of having students take the SATs or other standardized tests? I think they should create a test that has open ended questions in Mathematics, Science, English, and History which would allow students to present an analysis or argument in order to demonstrate that they know the events and that they can write within a time frame. This would also eliminate students’ ability to do well on the test by using good test taking skills and specific tricks to solve multiple-choice problems. In addition, the test should also include a section where it teaches something to students and then have the students use what they learned in a problem which would allow them to demonstrate their intelligence. Furthermore, I think that colleges should interview the students, look at the students’ extracurriculars, their GPA, and anything else they may have done before deciding whether students will get into a specific college instead of looking at SAT scores first and only then maybe looking at everything else. This will allow the faculty to get to know the applicant and it will give the applicant an opportunity to demonstrate her knowledge of the world, academic areas, and other interests she/ he has which would show her/ his level of intelligence.

Some colleges have stopped looking at the SAT or ACT scores because they think that these tests don’t show enough about the students and don’t necessarily demonstrate their ability to do college level work. According to a Washington Post article, certain schools don’t look at test scores anymore because “they don’t think a high-stakes test score is very revealing about a student’s abilities and find that high school grades are a more accurate reflection.” And 80 more colleges since about 2010 that “rank high on the U.S. News & World Report rankings” don’t require the SAT’s or ACT’s to be taken. Most of these colleges became “test flexible” which means that students can send any amount of standardized test scores they want to. Some of the colleges that have this policy are New York University, University of Texas, and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Thus, colleges agree that SAT or any other standardized test scores don’t tell them everything they need to know about students and therefore standardized tests don’t measure intelligence, but rather the tactics people use to complete them.


Works Cited:

Strauss, V. (2012, November 28). Colleges that don’t require SAT or ACT: New survey. Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/28/colleges-that-dont-require-sat-or-act-new-survey/