Poma: Students’ Futures Should Not Be Decided By Test Scores


“Though many college students will continue to endure the brunt of standardized tests in our post-graduate careers, there’s hope that the next generation will not,” writes Sasha Poma. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Sasha Poma, Assistant Opinion Editor


The standardized test system impacts many students’ college careers, and it continues even after undergraduate admissions with tests like the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT and CLEP. Plenty of problems with these tests have arisen in recent years. In the 2019 college bribery scandal, test scores were manipulated to indicate better performance. In light of recent events, the ACT and AP tests will be administered online, resulting in understandable frustrations from students because some “kids would probably cheat online.” However, there are much more fundamental problems with standardized testing. Luckily, more and more colleges are making the tests optional, but universities should go further and consider foregoing these unnecessary measurements across the board.

The standardized test system grows more outdated as the years go by. Centuries ago, these tests were used to assess a student’s performance. As the time they developed in the U.S., they were used primarily to assess government worker candidates and as military aptitude tests. The initial purposes of these tests do not match what colleges are using them for today. The system is outdated and needs a change, especially given how unhealthy attitudes towards these tests have become.

The pressure to perform well can deeply impact students’ mental health and performance. Several psychologists have warned against placing so much weight on these tests, especially when teen stress is already higher than adults. Test anxiety, illness and personal situations can greatly impact a student’s performance. Even though the ACT and SAT provide accommodations for students with disabilities, proctoring failures and falsified doctor’s evaluations undermine the validity of these special arrangements. Yet, scholarships, college credit and admission can still hinge on a good ACT or SAT score. A student’s admission to their dream school should not depend on some multiple-choice questions they took when they were 16 years old, especially when the score may not accurately reflect a student’s potential.

Because it can cost so much to take these exams and get a good score, even more pressure is placed on students. Yes, some students can apply for fee waivers, but not everyone who needs one will qualify. Think back to how much it cost just to register to take these tests — a single student’s fees can cost hundreds of dollars.

The high costs don’t apply just to undergraduate admissions either. To apply to post-graduate programs, tests such as the LSAT and GMAT can cost upwards of $200 and $275.  On top of that, many people are required to take several different tests, take the tests multiple times, purchase study guides or enroll in prep courses. Many low-income students cannot afford expensive prep courses or to take the tests more than once. Too often success is based on “learning the test” through “tips and tricks” courses rather than measuring a student’s knowledge. Determining college success with a test score forces students of all ages to shell out more and more money for applications, which further disadvantages those without large amounts of disposable income and does not even accurately predict how well a student will do in college.

A former dean of admissions expressed that GPA holds a greater indication of a student’s potential than individual test scores. Along with GPA, more value should be placed on a student’s background and personality. A test number cannot speak to the struggles or lessons an individual has learned throughout their high school career. More universities, including the University of Utah, have opted for the holistic review process, taking into account factors outside of GPA and scores. Universities that utilize this admissions process have reported a more diverse student body and better atmosphere compared to “prestigious” universities. Several colleges opted to make the tests optional for student applications. Hopefully, continued scrutiny for these tests will encourage more universities to stop considering individual test scores, and will prevent future generations from spending fortunes on unnecessary tests.

Even with all of these changes, it could be a while before the College Board tests become a distant memory in the minds of students. If schools are going to continue to use standardized test scores, the least they can do is create a more level playing field. Schools can offer greater access to prep work and help cover test costs. Though many college students will continue to endure the brunt of standardized tests in our post-graduate careers, there’s hope that the next generation will not.


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