Standardized testing: a discussion of its legitimacy and effect on mental health

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Defining a common standard presents a challenging task, especially within academics. Teachers base students’ numerical grades on generally objective factors, yet the averages that students attain on report cards can vary widely across teachers and schools based on difficulty. This presents the problem of an accurate way to evaluate students’ academic capabilities. To level the playing field, many schools require standardized tests as a standard of comparison, consequently burdening students with the perceived need to attain nearly perfect marks on them, which can detriment their mental health.

The SAT and ACT attract millions of students worldwide to take the tests as college readiness indicators. The two have multiple sections that assess core subjects: the SAT has evidence based reading and writing, math, and an optional essay, while the ACT has reading, writing, science, math, and an optional essay.  

Junior Arbid Yusuf supports the administration of standardized tests, stating that, “Although test and report card grades already indicate how much a student has learned, there’s always a difference in reliability as an indicator because different students have different teachers and different tests.”

Junior Michelle Lee added, “While [standardized tests] are notorious for an uncontrollable increase in stress, they’re still crucial in the college application process. [The SAT and ACT] are objective measures that allow all students to be assessed on equal terms to avoid discrepancies in different classes.”

Other students argue that standardized exams are ineffective in determining a student’s overall abilities and afflict psychological disorders on students.  According to recent studies, more than 33% of elementary and high school students in the US experience a form of test anxiety. Sophomore Andy Hoo commented, “Colleges and high schools place too much importance on standardized tests. They are good for judging students on their essential [English] and Math skills. However, one’s other valuable traits and qualities should be accounted for as well.”

While supporters of testing claim that it provides an objective way to scale students academically, the system still has its flaws that place certain demographics at large advantages over the rest of the applicant pool. “More fortunate students can go to test prep centers, while other kids can’t afford it,” Andy continued. “This often leads the kids [who cannot afford test prep] to experience anxiety or depression because of the fear of not performing well on the exams.”

Standardized tests have also stirred up controversy in the school community because of questions of their legitimacy. Marcella De Laurentiis, a former Admissions Reader for the University of Chicago, current Admissions Reader for the University of California Berkeley, and a private admissions consultant at, said, “standardized test results are flawed, as the ACT and SAT often disadvantages students from under-resourced communities who cannot afford expensive test prep or multiple retakes of an exam. Admissions officers acknowledge that certain students are disadvantaged in taking standardized tests. That’s one of the reasons why many universities have chosen to become test optional, and why many other universities which require standardized exams look at applications holistically.”

Since so much can rest on a single preparable exam, more is needed to accurately define a student. “Most top universities consider some of the following: a student’s essays, extracurricular involvement, leadership, challenges faced and overcome, honors and awards, letters of recommendation, performance in an interview, demonstrated interest, and the diversity they might bring to campus,” De Laurentiis added. “While a good score on a standardized exam can help an applicant immensely, I’ve definitely seen students with lower scores get into great universities because they offered other wonderful contributions to a college campus.”

Senior Leah Musheyev, who has gone through the college process herself, reminded her peers that “what you get on the SAT or ACT is important when applying to college, but your score is definitely not synonymous with your achievements and aptitude. Don’t think that it is the sole determinant of your future, because all it really does it show your mastery in certain subjects.”