The Case Against Standardized Admissions Tests

A picture of someone baffled by standardized test.

Amidst the corona virus outbreak that has swept across the world over the past few months, many standardized tests have been postponed, converted into a proctored online alternative, or even cancelled. Namely the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT) have been cancelled across the world, beginning with the United States. As a result of these unforeseen circumstances, many universities and colleges have decided to waive the SAT and ACT requirements for admissions in the coming academic year, including the nine University of California colleges – which includes UCLA and UC Berkeley – and Cornell University (the first Ivy League school to do so). Beyond the SAT, the most popular tests for graduate school admissions include the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), which have all resorted to online testing at postponed dates. The GRE and GMAT requirements have also been waived at some universities in the United States, including University of Texas at San Antonio and University of Southern Mississippi. This begs the question of whether these tests were appropriate methods of admissions to begin with.

There is a general understanding of the need to hold standardized exams to create a threshold for acceptance to university that students must aim to achieve, however, there are many facets of this process that may prove to be problematic. The most obvious issue is the inaccessibility to education that these tests create. Not only are students expected to pay hundreds of dollars for the exam itself, but also for the books, classes, and other methods of preparation needed to reach the required grade. Beyond that, the companies that create the tests almost always encourage students to take the exams more than once, with the claim that this will help students recognize mistakes and practice for better scores in the future. With the cost of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)) exam at $250, the International English Language Testing System (International English Language Testing System (IELTS)) at $205, and the GMAT at $250, one can recognize the lack of egalitarianism present in the system. To add insult to injury, some tests cost more just because of the location it is being administered in; for example, the SAT and GRE cost $64 and $160 in the U.S. and around $112 and $190 in the Middle East respectively.

As if the cost of the tests in and of themselves are not enough of a financial burden, but sending the scores to prospective universities costs students even more money, with the LSAT as an example of one of the most expensive: the exam costs $200, but if one were to register for the Credential Assembly Service to send university grades and score reports, they would have to pay between $450-600 (inclusive of the exam). Bearing this in mind, one cannot help but acknowledge the monetary profits that test creators and preparatory institutions reap. The Harvard Political Review published a study claiming that in 2012, “states spent $1.7 billion per year on testing…all this money has fueled a booming testing industry, with companies like Pearson racking up billions in sales.” While most test creators advertise their offers for fee waivers, they drown students in the applications for it, and even ask for proof of sensitive information pertaining to the sources and amount of income that the family of the students receive, all while adding to the already existing stress and anxiety of applying to university. Students must also meet the eligibility criteria for fee waivers: the SAT, for example, allows certain individuals to apply for it in the U.S. provided that they meet at least one of the numerous criteria, which include but are not limited to students that are orphans or homeless, students enrolled in a program that aids low-income families, and those living in subsidized public housing or foster homes.

It is also noteworthy to mention an inherent issue in these examinations: standardized tests are not accurate determinants of the academic potential of students and are not categorically effective tools of measuring intellectual capabilities. Not everyone can perform well on standardized assessments, and there is no doubt that some promising students miss out on great opportunities due to their performances in such examinations. Numerous psychological studies have made the case against standardized tests, with the American Psychological Association noting that schools use tests results “in inappropriate ways,” and that the tests in and of themselves fail to adjust to an ever-increasing diversity in student population, “especially minority students, those from low-income families, and those who do not speak English as their first language.” In addition to that, research has also found that students who perform poorly in these tests are worse off and had “significantly higher dropout rates and lower achievement than those of similar ability who were promoted.” UCLA Emeritus Professor, W. James Popham, also mentions that “students’ scores on these tests do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness…any inference about educational quality made on the basis of students’ standardized achievement test performances is apt to be invalid,” further supplementing the claim that standardized exams are not indicative of one’s aptitude and projected academic success. Therefore, the inadequacy in measuring of standardized test results, coupled with the classist nature of the institutions and corporations that create these exams, make it all the more difficult for deserving bright young minds to access higher education.

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