What’s wrong with standardized tests

Actually, for my own sake, I like standardized tests. I’m good at them, and I actually kind of enjoy taking them. But they’re a complete waste of time and effort. (other than the fact that they’re required to get into college)

When I was in high school, one of my best friends got As in honors and AP classes. But based on her ACT score alone, she couldn’t have gotten accepted to any four-year college in Wisconsin. Good thing she was also valedictorian of our class, on a weighted GPA scale. She just wasn’t good at standardized tests.

The problem is, standardized tests don’t really measure intelligence, or academic ability, or readiness for college, or anything else they claim to measure. Even subject-specific tests (like the math GRE) aren’t really very good at measuring knowledge of the subject. Standardized tests measure how good you are at standardized tests. To some extent, that boils down to how good you are at logic and critical thinking, and how well you can apply that to multiple-choice questions. But there’s a lot more to doing well on the tests than just figuring out how to pick the right answers. Speed, shortcuts, strategic guessing, time management, and many other factors are essential to achieving your best score.

If you have to take the ACT or SAT or any other standardized test, you need to get a test preparation book. The best I’ve seen are published by the Princeton Review or written by Gary Gruber. You can borrow these books from your local public library, or buy one and write in it. (that’s better) Good test prep books don’t just teach you about the subject matter on the test. Both of the above sources have analyzed piles of sample tests and give you a wealth of strategies for racking up points, most of which have little to do with the math or grammar that appear to be the main point of the questions. There are also targeted books on SAT vocabulary or math shortcuts.

I got high scores on my standardized tests because I figured out some of the strategies on my own. But if I had known about these books fifteen years ago, I might have earned more scholarships and gone to a prestigious university. What would a five-point difference in your ACT score, or a 500 point difference in your SAT score, mean to you?

Note: I don’t recommend taking an expensive test prep class. Get at least one of the above books and buckle down. These will hold your attention better than other test prep books – the writing style is more engaging. If you have deficiencies in the subject matter, you’d probably benefit from personalized tutoring.