Benefits of Standardized Tests for College Apps Outweigh Pitfalls

By Izzy MacLellan

Staff Writer

Standardized testing has been around in the United States since the mid-1800s. In 2002, the use of annual standardized testing was mandated in all 50 states when President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind Act.” Over the years there have been many differing opinions on the use of standardized testing, but the ones that have caused the most controversy are the ‘high stakes’ tests, such as the SAT and ACT. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many high-end colleges and universities decided to waive their testing requirements; Harvard has even extended this to the high school Class of 2026. Many agree with this decision as they believe that these high-stakes tests put too much pressure on students and cause unnecessary amounts of stress. Although standardized tests do put a lot of pressure on students, they also provide several key advantages in the college admissions process as they showcase hard work, reveal improvement over time, and provide a benchmark for student performance. 

I understand that many parents and students believe that the pressure put on standardized tests is too much for teenagers, but I believe this pressure just pushes students to work harder. Kaplan, an exam prep website, states that students generally spend 10-20 hours a week studying to prepare for the SAT. While this does not seem like an extreme amount of time, it readies students for the amount of hours they will put into studying for college exams. A study by the National Survey of Student Engagement states that most college students spend an average of 10-13 hours a week studying for their classes. Another survey conducted by the news site, The Tab, found that New York University students spend about 8 hours a day studying during the week of final exams, which means they end up studying around 56 hours in just that one week. This shows that dedicating hours each week to studying for a high-pressure test prepares you for college. Students that score well on standardized tests demonstrate that they are willing to put in the hardwork and dedication to be successful at their desired university. Yes, these tests do put pressure on students, but the skill of studying and test-taking while under pressure is vital in the collegiate setting, so it is better to enhance this skill in high school through standardized testing rather than being unprepared for college life. 

Another important aspect of standardized testing is that it shows student improvement over time. Students are allowed to retake the SAT and ACT as many times as possible, allowing for better scores. High schoolers are able to familiarize themselves with these tests and the process of preparation before submitting scores for college applications. According to the College Board, most students improve their score the second time they take the SAT; if a student can improve their SAT score by 100 points or more, then they become eligible to earn an “Improve Your Score scholarship” that is worth $2,000. Many students use their ability to retake the SAT and ACT to their advantage. One of my close friends is an excellent student who didn’t score as well as they hoped the first time they took the SAT, but they didn’t get too upset given they knew that they could retake the test. They decided to dedicate many hours of studying to prepare for the next time they take the exam, and they were ecstatic when they received an excellent score the second time, showing that all of their hard work paid off.

During the college application process, many students apply to top schools, commonly referred to as ‘reach’ schools, which require excellent grades and GPAs. But the American school system does not have standardized grading, so grades and GPAs aren’t worth the same in every school across the nation. Standardized tests provide colleges with a common benchmark for student performance, and an even playing field for all students. This means that students from different backgrounds, schools, and regions can be compared through these tests on a consistent basis. For example, if a student from a more challenging school has a lower GPA than a student from a school that is less challenging, they can make up for their lower GPA in their college application with a higher SAT or ACT score. Standardized tests give students across the country an equal chance to show off their academic performance. 

Even though standardized tests like the SAT and ACT put pressure on students, they are proven to have several key advantages to the college admissions process as they showcase the hard work and improvement of students, and they provide a benchmark for student performance. 

As colleges continue to shy students away from submitting their scores, they prevent many students from experiencing the essential hard work and growth required when taking and retaking these high-stakes standardized tests. That takes away their chance to show off their academic performance on a playing field that is equal to students across the United States. Is it really worth getting rid of standardized tests in the college admissions process, when they have so many benefits to students and their academic growth?

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